Monday, November 10, 2014

Homily: "You are the temple of God"

Click HERE to listen to Sunday's homily.

When we were in Israel this past summer, we visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  This is the site of the Jewish Temple that was built 3,000 years ago and destroyed in 70 AD.  It is a sacred site to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  It's the holiest place in the world to Jews because it was where God dwelled on earth.  It is sacred to Christians because of our Jewish roots and because Christ prayed and taught there.  It is holy to Muslims because they believe that is where Mohammed ascended into Heaven in the 7th century.  The iconic image of Jerusalem - the Golden Dome - is actually a Muslim building.

While we were there touring the site, we saw religious extremists from the different religions.  Our guide actually pointed them out to us, and stopped the tour a few times just to monitor them.  There was definite tension.  It wasn't violent like it's been there at that site in past days, but aggressive. The temple area is actually the focal point of the conflict in Israel and the religious tension there.

The temple is the focal point of tonight's readings as we celebrate a feast of a major Christian church, the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran.  This was the mother church of Christendom before St. Peter's. The temple was revered so much by Jews because it was the House of God on earth.  It's where they experienced the presence of God, especially the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.  They worshipped God and paid Him homage in the temple.  They still do it today at the only remaining remnant of the temple, the Western Wall.  We prayed at the wall - also known as the Wailing Wall - while we were there. We hear in the first reading that everything flows from the temple - vast amounts of water and fruitfulness.

A transition regarding the temple is made in today's Gospel.  This is a popular Gospel account, though, for other reasons.  People cite this often to show that even Jesus got angry (righteous anger).  This is true, but is also reveals his intense love and respect for the temple..."zeal for your house consumes me".  The transition that is made here is that the temple goes from being a building to a person, Jesus Christ.  He talks about rebuilding the temple.  Those who are there think he is referring to the enormous building.  "But he was speaking about the temple of his body".  He was referring to himself as the new temple!

He is the presence of God on earth.  He is the new Ark of the Covenant...the new Holy of Holies.  And why is this transition to a new temple tied in with the resurrection? Because the resurrection is the greatest manifestation of his divinity. When he rose from the dead, the disciples recognized His divinity.  And, then they “remembered that he had said this”, that He was the new temple.  His risen body is the new temple, the presence of God on earth.  Just as the Jews worshipped God in the temple, we worship Jesus in his risen body, primarily the Eucharist.  We pay him homage and respect when we come before his Eucharistic body, genuflecting and kneeling in his presence.  The seeds of respecting and reverencing the presence of God on earth were planted in the Old Testament, and were fulfilled in the New Testament in Jesus Christ.

Finally, there is an even stronger transition.  In the second reading, St. Paul writes that “you are the temple of God”.  He is speaking to all of you and me.  It is a plural “you”.  In a few chapters later in 1 Corinthians, he refers to the individual Christian: “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”.  Here he is referring to all of us who have been baptized, and “that the Spirit of God dwells in you”.  In Baptism, the Holy Trinity makes His dwelling in us; we are God’s presence on earth.  We all make up the Church which is the Mystical Body of Christ on earth.  You are holy and sacred, just like the Temple and Eucharistic Body are holy and sacred.  Don’t destroy or desecrate the bodies, souls, reputations, and spirits of those around you, just like you wouldn’t destroy or desecrate a temple or church.  Build each other up.  Treat each other as holy and sacred, the new temple, the mystical Body of Christ on earth. 

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