Celebrating God’ Sacred Presence With and Within Us!
Readings: 1st: Ezek 47, 1-2. 8-9.12; Ps 45, 2-9; 2nd: 1 Cor 3, 11. 16-17; Gos: Jh 2, 13-22
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans). He is currently working at the Sanctuario del Espiritu Santo, en Dorado, Puerto Rico, del Internacional Grupo Espiritano De Puerto Rico – Republica Dominicana. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
“The beauty and harmony of Churches, destined to render praise to God, invites us, limited beings and sinners, to form a ‘cosmos,’ a well-ordered edifice, in communion with Jesus, who is the true Holy of Holies…Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony.” (Pope Benedict XVI Nov 9, 2008, Feast of Lateran Basilica). Exactly after one week of being granted the privilege by God and his Church to celebrate and reflect on the dual feast of All Saints and Souls, today the 32nd Sunday of ordinary time, we are once again given another opportunity to celebrate and reflect upon God’s divine closeness and presence with and within us through the Feast of the Dedication of St John Lateran Basilica. Two basic points are important in today’s celebration. First the physical building as well as us, are both God’s temple and dwelling place. Second, both the physical church building and us are both the physical evidence and manifestation of God’s presence on earth and as such, must be kept holy and sacred.
There is a great misconception about this feast and most importantly about St. Peter’s Basilica Rome both among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Rather than St. St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Pope’s church as the Bishop of the archdiocese of Rome is the Lateran Basilica which bears on its facade: “omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput” (the mother and mistress of all churches of Rome and the world). This Basilica was built by Constantine and was consecrated by Pope Sylvester in 324. This feast was first observed in Rome, but was extended to the Universal Latin Church. This is a way of expressing our love, solidarity, union and faithfulness to the Chair of Peter which our holy father Pope Francis occupies today as the primus inter pares. In personifying and referring to this church as “The Mother” of all churches, it means that as a mother she bears, nurtures, feeds, cares and protects her children. She is a place of refuge. This Lateran Basilica and indeed every other dedicated church around the world is therefore the symbol of God’s divine physical manifestation and presence among his people. It is also the symbol of the holy mother church on earth, and of Our Lady who is truly the mother and mistress of the church. She stands close to us all especially during difficult moments with her arms wide open as: “The Refuge of Sinner”, “The Comforter of the Afflicted”, “The Tower of David”, and “The Ark of the Covenant”.
In our first reading today the vision of the prophet Ezekiel about the temple of Jerusalem is presented to us in a most articulate and dramatic fashion. This reminds us of God’s ever abiding presence within his temple. As a sign of God’s presence among his people, the Temple or “Church” is a place from where the river of God’s joy emanates and flows towards us in order to nourish and satisfy us. It is a place of refuge and a place where we find eternal bliss, a place where our spiritual hunger and thirst are satisfied, and most importantly, it is a place of healing where we find Jesus our balm of Gilead (Jer 8, 22) that heals our wounded souls. Ezekiel recapitulates thus about this river that flows from God’s temple or church: “Wherever the river flows all living creatures teeming in it will live…for where ever the river flows, it brings health, and life…because this water comes from the sanctuary”. It suffices to note that there is both a significant ontological as well as functional difference between a “Dedicated Church” and an ordinary hall, a factory building, make-shift canopy, an abandoned warehouse, a shop/store, an auditorium, a classroom, a dining room, a parlor, capitols or town halls, just as there was a much difference between the Temple of Jerusalem and the synagogues (town halls). Therefore, in every dedicated church dwells the fullness of the presence of the Trinitarian God. It is a sacred, permanent dwelling of God, and a place of prayer. So, it must be accorded utmost reverence.
In the second reading, Paul takes us to the next and very important dimension of the temple of God and that is us: “You are God’s building…did you not realize that you are God’s temple and the Holy Spirit of God was living among you?” This is straight and direct to the point and this is what we are. We are the seat of God’s government because our hearts are the innermost sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit. Paul reminds us of God’s special presence within us. We are God’s living and mobile temple. Therefore, there is a special call today to keep this temple holy, pure and sacred, because, God does not dwell in a flirty temple. If our temple remains sacred his spirit will continue to dwell therein. Otherwise we may experience “Ichabod” (the departing of God’s glory, 1 Sam 4, 21) as Israel did when they offended God and consequently, the Ark of the Covenant was captured. Unfortunately many of us Christians in the name of “freedom/liberty” and its twin sister – “human rights”, have abused ourselves (God’s temple) so much. Some have done this through drug and alcohol addiction, sex addiction, excessive make ups and tattoos, and even attempts to take our own lives etcetera. All these however, are manifestations of our sheer ignorance of who we truly are – the temple of the living God. We belong primarily to God because we did not create ourselves. This is why Paul warns us of the imminent danger associated with treating God’s temple with utter disrespect, contempt and impunity: “If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred and you are that temple.”
In the gospel, Jesus’ action in the temple brings us to the climax and significance of today’s celebration. He gives us a typical good example of how we ought to threat and reverence the temple of God. John summarizes Jesus’ action and words thus: “Destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will rebuild it…but he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body…” Our bodies as God’s temple were purchased through the water of baptism, and consecrated through the sacred oil of Chrism and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit whereas the physical church is also consecrated by both the presence of the Trinitarian God and the presence of “God’s priestly, holy and chosen people” (1Peter 2, 9). Therefore, as we commemorate the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica today which reminds us of God’s sacred presence with and within us, let us joyfully acclaim with the psalmist: “The water of the river give joy to God’s city, the holy place where the Most High dwells…God is for us a refuge and strength…the Lord God of Host is with us, the God of Jacob is our strong hold…!”
Peace be with you all!!
Maranatha (Ven Senor Jesus)!!!