Why We Have Churches
“Thus saith the Lord: Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool; what is this house which you will build for me? And what is this place of my rest? My hand made all of these things” (Is. 66:1-2). This is a question worth pondering. St. Paul assures us that God, “being Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). Why, then, do we build churches? What is a church, if it is not the house of God? What are we to think of this?
It is true that God fills heaven and earth (Jr. 23:24), and He cannot be confined to any one place. But He is not present everywhere in the same way. Remaining the same in Himself, He is present differently in different places, because of the difference in the things that He is present to. If it were otherwise—if God were equally present everywhere—we would not say, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” God’s presence is more perfect in heaven than in hell; and on earth He is close to the just, but far from the wicked.
The just resemble God and manifest his holiness, and God exercises a special providence over them. “The eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and his ears are inclined to their petitions” (Ps. 33). God’s providential care was manifested to the patriarch Jacob when he was in Bethel. The patriarch saw the heavens opened, and a ladder was reaching up from earth into heaven; angels were ascending and descending the ladder, and the Lord was leaning against the top of it. The Lord assured Jacob, “I will be thy keeper whithersoever thou goest” (Gn. 28:15).
When Jacob awoke, he exclaimed, “Truly the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not! This is the house of God, and the gate of heaven” (Gn. 28:16-17)—words which the Church repeats frequently when she celebrates the dedication of a church. Let us make sure that we understand them. God was in Bethel, not because of the place itself, but because of the person who was in it; He was watching over his servant Jacob. The Lord is present where his servants are. Jesus Christ affirmed this when He said: “Where two or thee are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20). In comparison, then, “how much more terrible is the place, and how much more certainly is the Lord there, where not only two or three, but very many are gathered in God’s name!” Such is the church, the appointed meeting-place between man and his Creator.
Consequently, God is present in the church in a special way—even when the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved there—simply because it is a house of prayer (Mt. 21:13); and He exercises a special providence over those who pray in the church, so that their prayers have greater efficacy; for He said to Solomon, concerning the Temple: “I have chosen and sanctified this place, that my name may be there forever, and my eyes and my heart may remain there always” (2 Par. 7:16). And “my eyes will be open, and my ears erect to hear the prayer of whosoever shall pray in this place” (2 Par. 7:15).