We didn’t build the new Columban Mission Center from the ground up. It was an old two-story house, probably built in the 1920s, not far from downtown El Paso, Texas. But Fr. Bill Morton and many local friends put a lot of work into it, renovating and rebuilding, tearing down walls and putting up new ones, exposing the brick at one end of the dining area, using glass bricks in another part of the same space.
Ecological justice is a central part of mission, and Fr. Bill wanted a building that promoted a lifestyle of respect for the planet and its resources. A contact told him of an old school gym that was being torn down, and Fr. Bill arranged for the hardwood floorboards to be brought out. After sanding it down and putting a polyurethane-based varnish on it, it looked like new, and covered almost the entire first floor.
Fr. Bill left the old lead-weighted windows in, calculating that installing new vinyl windows would leave a heavy carbon footprint on the environment. Water use is restricted, air is cooled by fans and covered windows, dishwater is carried outside to the organic garden, next to the compost pile. The work of reconciling humanity with nature is a Good News that can be experienced just by entering the Columban Mission Center, and groups of students and parishioners from around the country can stay here, and listen to the moving stories of migrants and refugees.
What kind of house can we build for God? The readings of the Fourth Sunday in Advent remind us that building a new house, or even renovating an old one, can require a lot of material and work, but the house that God wants for us is the house that God builds for us, and not necessarily the house we expected.
David wanted to build a house for God, and Mary and Joseph probably had their own plans for their life together. But they both accepted God’s plan for them, and their roles in the construction of a house for all humanity, for all Creation. David would receive a royal “house”, culminating in the birth of a child to Mary, a Son of David, the Son of God. Their original plans changed, just as our plans may change, when God proposes a new plan, a new way of life, a new way to relate to one another, a new way to receive one another—in houses open to the poor, with doors that welcome the immigrant and the unemployed, and windows wide open to the fresh air of justice.