|Cleansing the Temple|
Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12
Psalm 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9
1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17
Today we celebrate the feast of the Dedication of St. John Lateran, one of the four Major Basilicas in Rome. The title of the feast can be a bit misleading because there is no saint named ‘John Lateran’. Rather, the church derives it’s name from its consecration to St. John the Evangelist and St. John the Baptist and its location on the Lateran Hill in Rome. It can seem odd that the celebration of the dedication of a church in Rome would take precedence over the Sunday celebration of Mass throughout the world and yet that's the case. This is because St. John Lateran is the Popes cathedral. Most of us would think that St. Peter's would be the Holy Father’s main church, but St. Peter's only became the residence of the Holy Father a few hundred years ago. Before then, dating back to the 4th-century, St. John's was the central place for the Pope and for this reason it is given the title ‘Mother of all churches in the city and the world’. This bold, yet beautiful, title helps us understand why it is celebrated universally and with such solemnity: because it is the main reminder of God’s love for us in giving us the Church herself, from which flows all grace and spiritual life.
We see this concept of a ‘mother church’ in the first reading from Ezekiel, who saw the Temple with the water flowing from its side out to the world. That vision of life-giving water shows us plants that bear fruit times a year and draw all living creatures to find refreshment in it. That life-giving water is also a cleansing water, as we see that the river flows into the Arabah, making the saltwater fresh. This sign shows us that rather than being changed by the world, the water changes that which it touches. This water is symbolic of the grace of Christ in the church, spoken of by the Lord in various places but especially in John 3. A couple of weeks ago I preached about the Church as the Bride of Christ and we heard it referenced again today in the opening Collect. And what happens when a bride and groom get married? The two become one and from there on out, as the saying goes, ‘what’s yours is mine and what’s mine is yours.’ The same is true of Christ and the Church. In joining Himself to her as a spouse, the Lord gives to the Church the gift of His infinite grace to be able to spread it throughout the whole world.
It is this mystery of grace going out to the whole world that we celebrate also in this scandalous teaching of Jesus on the resurrection of the Temple. When Jesus says He would raise the Temple in three day, the hearers of that word would rightly be shocked because they had been laboring for 46 years already and weren’t done yet! And, yet, we are told that He wasn’t really talking about the Temple around them at all, but rather about the TRUE Temple – His Body. This is significant because for the Jewish people the Temple was the place to encounter God. They had synagogues to listen to God’s Word all over Israel but there was only one Temple – and it was there that sacrifice was offered and there that the Holy of Holies was, the place where God dwelt among the Israelites. And with Jesus saying He was the true Temple, He was saying in no uncertain terms ‘Do you want to see God? Here I Am.’
Here is where the mysteries tie together. The Church is often described as the Mystical Body of Christ because, according to St. Paul’s teachings, we are made members of the Body of Christ in our baptism. We are joined to His Body; it’s like having and addition to your house – except the Body of Christ has simply been rejoicing in billions of additions over the course of 2000 years. And if Christ is the Temple, the place where the Holy Spirit dwells in truth, then as we are brought into the Body of Christ, the same becomes true of us. This is why St. Paul can rightly say that we are Temples of the Holy Spirit. And if the Temple of the Jerusalem needed to be cleansed to better honor God, the same can be said of us. The cleansing of Temple happened in days of Jesus, but it is intended to continue daily in our own hearts.
This week being National Vocations Awareness Week, I’ve been thinking about my own experience of discernment and I recalled a trip I once took to Nashville, TN. A group of about 20-30 seminarians from Notre Dame in New Orleans went to visit the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia. We visited with them for the day, having meals, prayer, and recreation time with them. At one point the seminarians sat down with the group of recently professed sisters and it was suggested that we each give a minute-long clip of our vocation story, and so we went. It was incredible to hear how God has worked in so many different ways and to hear where people were coming from all arriving in the same place. One of the seminarians started laughing at the end and said, “Did anyone notice the pattern?” We all looked, intrigued. He pointed out that almost every sister described her calling in terms of love – they were wooed by God, they were embraced by His Love, they found the joy of being a bride of Christ, and the like. On the opposite end, the guys all spoke in physical, often violent, terms – we were all hit with a divine 2x4, slapped upside the head, tossed into the muck of life, etc. Maybe that’s a commentary on the hard-headedness of men, but that’s another homily! But it struck me because all of us need to have the temple of our heart cleansed, but that can happen in different ways. We can give God the stuff of sin that lies within our hearts and have a gentle, loving encounter with the Lord that builds us up. Or…we can cling to our sin and let God whack us with that divine 2x4 and give up our sin then. The choice is ours, but the end will be the same.
That said, the obvious invitation now is to open the door for the grace of God to pour in and cleanse the temple of our hearts. What is that one thing you need to stop? That one sin you keep struggling with, that temptation you keep having, that mindset that seems impossible to change? I presume most of us know exactly what that thing is right now – we usually know our biggest sins without much reflection – and so the next step is to let God have it. When the offertory comes up, place you sin in the basket. Let’s let God have it and let the waters of God’s grace flow into our hearts to bring life and freshness where saltwater once rested. Let’s take this opportunity and invite the Lord to come cleanse us that we might be worthy dwelling places of the Lord, and one day be welcomed into the glory of the sanctuary of Heaven.