Tuesday, November 8, 2016

"YOU ARE THE TEMPLE OF GOD."

November 9th, 2016. Dedication of St. John Lateran 
Ezek. 47:1-2, 8-9, 12; 1 Cor. 9c-11,16-17; John 2:13-22.
AIM: To help the hearers understand our calling as God=s temples.
 
          Is the Bible a Christian book? Just about any of us would answer this question in the affirmative. Of course it=s a Christian book, we would say. While that is not wrong, most of the Bible is not about Christians at all, but about Jews.  Even the New Testament is almost entirely about Jews. Jesus was a Jew, like his mother Mary and St. Joseph. Jesus= twelve apostles and almost all his first followers were also Jews. 
The Jewish people possessed, in Bible times, a special place of worship: the Jerusalem temple. It was built by King Solomon, son of the great King David. The  temple was the earthly dwelling place of the God who had chosen them from all the peoples on earth to be his own. As a mark of his special favor God had given them the Ten Commandments: not a fence to hem them in, but ten words of wisdom which, if followed, would lead to happiness and fulfillment for the people and each individual. 
As a devout Jew, Jesus worshiped regularly in the Jerusalem temple. The building he knew was not the one built by Solomon, however. That had been destroyed several centuries earlier by enemies who conquered Jerusalem and carried its inhabitants off to exile in Babylon. After their return to Jerusalem the people built a new temple on the site of the old one.
It was this rebuilt, second temple, which Jesus knew. There he was brought as an infant to be dedicated to God. There, at age twelve, he was found by his anxious parents after a frantic three-day search. There, as we heard in the gospel reading, he overturned the tables of the money-changers, rebuking people for turning God=s house into a marketplace.
That temple did not long survive Jesus. Not forty years after his death and resurrection Jerusalem was again plundered; this time by the Romans, who pulled down the temple that Jesus had known, and in which Peter and the other first Christians continued to worship even after Jesus= resurrection and ascension. Now, Paul writes in our second reading, we are God=s temple: ADo you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?@
Today Catholics all over the world celebrate the dedication of a Christian temple: the Church of St. John Lateran in Rome. Though less well known than St. Peter=s basilica, St. John Lateran and not St. Peter’s is the Pope=s cathedral as Bishop of Rome. It is customary in every diocese or local church throughout the world to celebrate the dedication of the cathedral, the bishop=s church. We celebrate this feast in St. Louis on October twelfth.  Because the Pope is the chief shepherd of the whole church, we celebrate the dedication of his cathedral each year on the ninth of November. Only when that date falls on a Sunday, however, do most Catholics become aware of the observance.                                           
The preface to the eucharistic prayer, which we shall hear in a few moments, helps us to appreciate the significance of today=s celebration: AIn your benevolence you are pleased to dwell in this house of prayer in order to perfect us as the temple of the Holy Spirit, supported by the perpetual help of your grace and resplendent with the glory of a life acceptable to you.”  Even as we celebrate the dedication of a building, therefore, the church=s public prayer reminds us that the most important temple is the one built not of stones, but of people. 
The parish which I formerly served as pastor used to attract many visitors.  They would often remark: AFather, you have a beautiful church.@  To which I always replied:
AThank you. And we think the building is nice too.@
The church is people before it is a building. AThe temple of God, which you are,@ Paul writes in our second reading, Ais holy.@  AHoly@ means Aset apart@, removed from ordinary use, set apart for God. It is in this sense that a chalice is holy. It is not an ordinary cup. It is used only for the Lord=s Precious Blood. This building in which we worship is holy: it is not a dance hall, an auditorium, or a theater. It is set apart for worship.

We too are people set apart. When did that happen, you ask? In baptism!  The Catechism says: ABaptism not only purifies from all sins, but also makes the neophyte [the newly baptized person] >a new creature,= an adopted son of God, who has become a >partaker of the divine nature,= member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit.@ [No. 1265]  The whole of the Christian life, therefore, is not a striving after high ideals which constantly elude us. It is living up to what, through baptism, we already are: temples, dwelling places of God=s Holy Spirit.

Today, therefore, we celebrate not merely the dedication of a building: the Pope=s cathedral in Rome. We celebrate no less our own dedication as people set apart for God. What that means in daily life St. Paul tells us in stirring words in his letter to the Philippians: AShow yourselves guileless and above reproach, faultless children of God in a warped and crooked generation, in which you shine like stars in a dark world and proffer the world of life@ (2:15)

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord: there is no call higher than that, no life more worth living.