Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Kevin Walsh’s post (here) on the bell and clock tower at the Cathedral of St. Louis in New Orleans made me think of my own parish, Saints Peter & Paul in Naperville, Illinois. In February of this year the parish welcomed a newly cast bell. Like the bell christened “Victoire” in New Orleans, our new bell was “baptized” – blessed by Joliet’s auxiliary bishop, Joseph Siegel, and named the “Mother of God” bell (here). A picture of the bell appears above (that is my son’s head in the Union Jack hat in the foreground).
In the late 1990s, to mark the new millennium, the City of Naperville decided to construct a carillon and tower near the city’s downtown. The project was late and over budget (here) but was eventually completed. With the carillon Naperville can now boast of being home to the fourth largest musical instrument in North America (here).
When it was originally proposed I remember thinking “Why do we need a bell tower when we already have one?” Of course the “we” is different – the political community did not have a bell tower whereas the Catholic community of faith already did. And the bells of Saints Peter & Paul parish ring out for all, marking the hours accented by the melody of hymns, while the city carillon, though lovely, chimes a different tune.
At Saints Peter & Paul the “Mother of God” bell now accompanies the “Saint Bernard” bell and the “Saints Peter and Paul” bell in the church steeple, calling the faithful to prayer and reminding everyone who have ears to hear (cf. Matt. 11:15) that there is something else, something beyond themselves – a horizon of existence beyond immediate sense perception. For when the bell tolls it reminds us that the “secular” is only that – of the times. But there is time beyond time where “one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). But it is in the here and now that we seek to "work out our salvation" (cf. Phil. 2:12) through love of God and neighbor.
Kevin’s post reminds us that the Establishment Clause has not always meant what it means today. The clock and bell tower in New Orleans stands in sharp relief to the theme of strict separationism and the naked public square.
The truth is that we do not need the government to pay for our bells to be cast or to build our churches and other sanctuaries. What we need is the freedom to live our faith – to ring the bells not only from our steeples, but in our schools, universities, hospitals, and charities – in the corporal works of mercy that we seek to perform “for the least of these” (cf. Matt. 25:40).