Much of the interior of Santa Sophia was straight out of the Jet Age — everything groovy, expansive, and clean. A pair of curved entrance tunnels led to a church whose high walls and ceiling flowed together into one smooth arch. Up in the sanctuary, a presider’s chair straight off the bridge of the USS Enterprise sat below a pair of mid-century modern chandeliers.
But it also sat below the largest crucifix I had ever seen up close and dead-personal, rough-hewn and heavy, and maybe 40 feet tall. Nothing Jet Age about it; it was more modern-primitive — something new patterned after something ancient. And once I saw it there, I saw it all over the place. In the candles — three on either side of the altar, plus the towering Paschal candle in front, signifying the Easter Season. And again in the bucket of water that Reverend Devdas blessed at the opening of Mass: “Loving Father, Your gift of water brings life and freshness to the earth.” In baptism, “it washes away our sins and brings us eternal life. We ask You now to bless this water and give us Your protection.... Renew the springs of Your life within us.” (Devdas then processed through the congregation, sprinkling water this way and that. As the drops fell, the faithful bowed their heads and made the sign of the cross. The cantor sang in a grand, warbling voice: “Springs of water, bless the Lord, give him glory and praise forever.”) And yet again in the preparation of the gifts — the altar girls laying out cloths on the altar, bringing up cups and bread and wine and water, washing the priest’s hands before he represented the sacrifice that was also a supper: bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Jesus, to be consumed by the faithful. The blood of the New Covenant — offered 2,000 years ago and offered again today — itself an updating of the Old Covenant between God and His people the Israelites. “Through the Eucharsist which we celebrate,” prayed Devdas, “make us worthy to sit at His table in the heavenly kingdom.”
The second reading, taken from Revelation, spoke of that kingdom — the “new Jerusalem,” in which God will dwell with humanity, “and they will be his people.... He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning.” But the Gospel, taken from John, focused much more on the here and now. “Jesus said...’I give you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.’” And that was the verse Devdas examined in his homily.
“Today’s Gospel,” he began, “reminds me of the life of Saint Damien. Damien was sent to Molokai, to work with the people there who had leprosy. To a community which had not experienced God’s love. He washed them and bandaged their wounds, and they began to experience God’s love. It was known as a living graveyard; he contracted the same disease and died at age 49. A few months ago, he was canonized as a saint. Through his life’s example, he radiated God’s love.”
About God’s love, Devdas made three points. First, “God is love” — its original source, and the reason He created humanity and made a covenant with it. Second, “God’s love is manifested in Jesus. Jesus is the visible sign of God, who is invisible. In him, we see and experience God’s love.” Third, “We as Christians are the agents of God’s love. We are invited to love one another with selfless, unconditional love. We can show our love in many ways: treating people with respect, making friends, praying for one another, forgiving their sins, not wishing them harm. Mother Teresa said, ‘It is not what we do, but how much love we put into doing it.’”
During the Prayers of the Faithful, a woman prayed, “For those who find it difficult to forgive — that Jesus, who commanded us to love one another, may soften their hearts and give them words of reconciliation.” And Devdas prayed, “Let our charity make us worthy for eternal salvation. We ask this through Christ our Lord.”
At the end of Mass, a woman announced that next Sunday, Catholic Charities and Father Joe’s Villages would be collecting donations for an outreach to the earthquake victims in the Diocese of Mexicali.
What happens when we die?
“In John’s Gospel, chapter 14,” began Devdas, “Jesus says, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me.... I will come back again and take you to myself.’ Jesus will come back one day and we will be taken to heaven and united with Him forever in peace and joy. And we will enjoy the paradise that we are looking for.”
9800 San Juan Street, Spring Valley
Denomination: Roman Catholic
Founded locally: 1956
Senior pastor: Peter McGuine
Congregation size: 300 households
Staff size: 10
Sunday school enrollment: 300
Annual budget: n/a
Weekly giving: n/a
Singles program: Theology on Tap
Dress: casual to formal
Diversity: mostly Caucasian and Hispanic
Sunday worship: 7:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour