The gilded and gem-studded Sanctuary of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

19 April 2022. Easter Monday. Cycle C-2022. Isaiah 42:1-7 + John 12:1-11

“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (John 12:8).

After rallying wealthy donors to build the Eternal Word Television Network, the biggest Catholic Media network, Mother Angelica embarked on another big project.

The deprived child of poverty rallied once more her wealthy donors, this time to build the opulent Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Our Lady of the Angels Monastery.

The Monastery in Hanceville, Alabama housed the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, cloistered nuns of the religious order that Mother Angelica founded.

“I will help those who help you,” said the message in a vision Mother Angelica reportedly received in Bogota, Colombia. She claimed that this vision inspired her to build a golden shrine to honor the Child Jesus. Divine Providence confirmed her vision when five families pledged to fund all the expenses to build the shrine.

Builders used “real gold and real diamond” in some parts of the worship area. Critics of the extravagant project cited “the $30 million cost could have funded about 600 Habitat for Humanity Homes that could house as many as 3,000 poor people. Yet this shrine houses only 19 of so ‘Poor Clare’ nuns. I think there’s a problem with priorities here.”

Pre-modern churches were all built opulently relative to secular structures surrounding these. God even ordered Moses to build worship areas and accessories to be made out of precious materials that the Chosen People donated (cf. Exodus 35—40). King Solomon, himself, built the Temple in similar opulence.

“Sisters, you can never go overboard when it comes to Our LORD and the things that belong to His worship, ” Mother Teresa told the Poor Clare nuns, who might have expressed apprehension over the lavish project. “We must never feel that anything is too lavish or expensive when it comes to vestments or altar cloths or chalices. God has never been stingy with us, Sisters.”

Project supporters, on the other hand, cautioned critics for sounding like Judas’ misplaced “priority concern for the poor over concern for Jesus.” They cited the reaction of Jesus, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me” (cf. Jonn 12:1-8).

The argument reminds me of some activist priests who had similar, probably misplaced, “pauperization of worship.” They used for the Holy Mass houseware cups rather than the customary gold chalices, and casual clothes rather than the traditional rich vestments.

The opulence befits wholly the worship of the Holy God, not to provide comfort for the Poor Clare nuns who are there merely to manage the facility. VSS

Picture Credit: Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament through Carol Highsmith.