I recently had the opportunity to visit La Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Church) in Barcelona, Spain. It is an amazing sight to see: a church that really looks like no other in the world.
And I know my churches. I’ve visited churches on six continents including many famous ones like St. Peter’s in Rome, the Duomo in Milan, St. Paul’s in New York and Westminster Abbey in London.
This church is unique for its architecture but also for something else; it’s not finished. Construction of the church has lasted for 137 years!
Antoni Gaudi, a well-known Spanish architect, designed the church and worked on it for 46 years. Shortly before his death in 1926, the first tower was completed; seven more towers are now done and another ten are in construction.
Gaudi’s vision was for the church to inspire feelings of elevation that would invite people to worship God. He was a deeply devoted Christian. He practiced his faith and incorporated it into everything about the building. He thought of himself as “God’s architect.”
He knew his vision was huge and would take time to build. He once said, “My God is not in a hurry.”
The engineering design is substantial with an unprecedented eighteen towers (12 of the towers are for the apostles, four are for the evangelists, one is for Mary and the largest tower -- at 170 meters -- is for Jesus). Then there are the intricate facades filled with sculptures telling the story of Jesus’s life.
The church is an architectural masterpiece. Gaudi was a lover of animals and nature. He referred to the church as a forest made of stone. Along with sculptures of biblical characters, there are birds, turtles, and even dragons.
For 20 years, construction stopped during the Spanish Civil War. Afterward, repairs had to be made to the inside of the church, and work resumed slowly as donations came in to help restore the building.
In 2010, the inside of the church was finally finished. Pope Benedict came to dedicate the building. And yet the outside of the church is still not complete. The goal for completion is 2026, notably 100 years after the death of Gaudi.
There is so much to the church. To create and pay for such a unique building takes time, although 137 years does seem excessive. So, for now, La Sagrada Familia is still under construction, and we will see if in seven years the church is finally finished.
Being under construction is a good way to understand our lives. We are all works in progress. Sometimes we get frustrated with the pace of our progress or the rate of our accomplishments. We may wish we were farther along than we are.
But a masterpiece is not made overnight -- or even in many nights. It takes time for the work to be done in our lives, and often, it’s longer than we think it should take. We can get frustrated with the seemingly slow or stalled growth and wish for more.
Of course, there are times we have setbacks. Just as the Spanish Civil War interrupted construction for 20 years, we too can have interruptions in our lives. Illness strikes, relationships end, we suffer loss. In all of these scenarios, we have to regroup and continue on the journey.
Many people, including the Catholic church, Barcelonans and supporters across the world, have committed to finishing La Sagrada Familia. They have persevered long past Gaudi’s life and managed to keep going even when funds were low.
La Sagrada Familia has been on a 137-year fundraising appeal. Various benefactors have helped with the construction costs through the years. Today the church receives over 10 million Euros a year just from tourist fees helping to finish construction.
I know what it is like to build a church facility. It’s expensive and requires lots of fundraising. Building and expanding our church has certainly taken persistence.
We must choose to persevere too. There are times when you just have to keep moving forward with a vision for your life. Move beyond the disappointments, in spite of the failures and through the pain.
We have to deal with deficits in our lives. No one is immune to financial challenges. When we lose a job or hit a financial roadblock, it may seem like a lack of resources will keep us from realizing our dream. But Philippians 1:6 tells us, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it.”
Sometimes we will struggle with change. When the second facade of La Sagrada Familia was completed in 1994, many people did not like it. The sculptures were different from the first facade. It was not just the style but the feeling it evoked. The first told the story of Jesus birth, the second of his passion. The first was more joyful, the second more severe. But over time people came to accept it.
You will have to work through changes in your life. You can change without growing, but you can’t grow without changing. Being under construction means being open to positive change in your life.
It won’t be 137 years, but for however long your life is, you are under construction, becoming who God created you to be. Remain open to opportunities, keep persevering though problems and stay committed to finishing your life well.