St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Encinitas

A cascading wave of honeyed wood and gray-white marble poured its way across the front wall of St. John's; the wood matched that used for the highly stylized crucifix suspended just in front of the wall -- Christ hanging from nothing more than a bowed crossbeam. (The granite served for his loincloth.) The free-form wave and unstructured cross caught the spirit of the entire building -- the altar was something of a focal point, but the space around it was so capacious as to diffuse that focus, sending the eye toward a tabernacle here, a Marian shrine there, each backed by trimmed slabs of the same gray marble. Father Corcoran's entrance was similarly unstructured -- while the cross- and book-bearers waited to ascend to the altar, he turned and made his way back up and down the center aisle, exchanging handshakes and gentle high-fives with the congregation. Meanwhile the choir sang the opening hymn, accompanied by flute and piano: "Come to the feast of heaven and earth/ Come to the table of plenty...O come and sit at my table/ Where saints and sinners are friends..."

"A very good morning to all coming to this table of plenty," said Corcoran during the welcome, "this sacrament of life, this whole new way of living...." The gathered-at-table theme continued during the Kyrie: "Lord Jesus, you came to gather all people into the peace of your kingdom; Lord have mercy. Christ Jesus, you nourish...us...in word and sacrament; Christ have mercy. Lord Jesus, you invite us to enter by the open gate, but the narrow gate of love, compassion, goodness, forgiveness, generosity, and care; Lord have mercy." The impromptu character of the prayers fit with the generally unstructured feeling -- Corcoran had a message he wanted to communicate, and that seemed the important thing. The liturgy omitted the Gloria and the Creed, but certain images and ideas were interwoven throughout.

The references to the feast and the gate pointed toward the Gospel, taken from Luke, in which Jesus said, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate," and spoke of people from all over the world (including the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs) who would "recline at table in the kingdom of God." (The procession of the Lectionary from altar to pulpit served as a dramatic counterpoint to Corcoran's roaming the Sanctuary. During the Alleluia, he stood stock still, facing the people and bearing the book aloft, then processed, then faced the people again, his movements timed and precise.) In the story, Christ also warned of those who would knock and ask, "Lord open the door for us," only to be told, "I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!"

Corcoran's homily was told in dramatic fashion -- he roamed, he gestured, he paused, he boomed and purred, raced and plodded, slipped from summation to story to exhortation. "Every day, strive to make those choices that keep you on the path.... It's not about, 'After we die, we go to heaven.' Christ didn't come to get us into heaven; Christ really came to get heaven into us, that we would know the glory of God in our midst today and walk amid that glory and goodness and love...and enter through that gate, even though it's narrow. There's no stuff you can bring with you...nothing but how you are as a person. What consumes you today? Where are you coming from? Where is your heart and your life? Make yourself known to Jesus! Go and change...put on the habit of charitable deeds...those garments of goodness and compassion.... It's not about the future...it's about welcoming Christ and his love: 'Take and eat...this is me, given for you.' It's about being one with that commitment and generosity toward each other: 'This is me, given for you.'... We must strive!"

The banquet imagery kept up during the Intercessory Prayers: "That our church may realize and celebrate its catholic nature, welcoming and honoring the people of every nation and culture who come to this table, we pray to the Lord." Unity with Christ's sacrifice showed up in the hymn at the Presentation: "We hold the death of the Lord deep in our hearts/ Living, now we remain with Jesus the Christ.... For to live with the Lord/ We must die with the Lord." Striving was offered along with the bread and wine during the Eucharistic Liturgy: "Let us pray...that our efforts, that our striving to enter through the narrow gate, may be truly acceptable and pleasing to our almighty Father." And in the meditation hymn after Communion, we heard: "Lead me, Lord, lead me, Lord, by the light of truth/ To seek and to find the narrow way."

What happens when we die?

"Our life here is precious, but not forever," said Corcoran. "When we die, it's ended, and we go and live with the Lord forever. Hopefully, we've left a whole legacy of generosity and goodness."

St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Encinitas

1001 Encinitas Boulevard, Encinitas

Denomination: Roman Catholic

Founded locally: 1946

Senior pastor: Brian Corcoran

Congregation size: 3200 families

Staff size: 8 in ministry; 16 in parish

Sunday school enrollment: 536 children in St. John's school

Annual budget: about $830,000

Weekly giving: $16,000

Singles program: no

Dress: semiformal

Diversity: majority Caucasian, some Hispanic and Asian American

Sunday worship: 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 10:30 a.m., noon (Spanish), 5 p.m.

Length of reviewed service: 1 hour

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