St. Paul teaches us that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19). He also teaches that all of us together are the temple of the Holy Spirit (3:16-17). So, each of our bodies is a place set apart for the continuous praise and worship of God, and yet we are not temples in isolation from one another because we are all together being built into the One Temple of the Holy Spirit (1st Peter 2:5).
St. Paul goes on to tell us that we are the Body of Christ. Let us keep this in mind as we watch Jesus cleanse the Temple in Jerusalem by disrupting and kicking out the money changers (John 2:13-22). John then tells us that Jesus' own body is the new Temple, the place where God is continually praised in a manner that pleases him. This gives Jesus full authority over the Templebuilding in Jerusalem.
In today's Gospel, Jesus warns about the coming destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. His words are then fulfilled about 40 years later when the Roman army completely destroyed and burned it while putting down a military rebellion among some of the Jews in 70 A.D. Jesus gives his disciples specific clues so that they will flee in time and then go on to give irrefutable testimony to him before world rulers. In the face of ongoing persecution he tells them that perseverance willsecure their lives even though some of them will be put to death.
What can we learn from all of this today in 2016?
Let me propose a few questions for us to ponder. How would you practice your Catholic faith if every church building you have worshiped in during your life were all completely destroyed? When and where would you pray? How would we be sure that we gathered together to celebrate the mass? How would you hand on the faith that was handed on to you in better times? How would you see to it that your own faith did not fade away? How would you remain strong in your Catholic identity? Perhaps we forget that Christians all over the world in the past and still todayare forced to face these same questions.
I am not suggesting that Church buildings are unimportant. Jesus doesn't say that either. But living out our faith cannot somehow depend on a building, as if that building were at least a partial condition of living our faith with others.
When Pope St. John Paul II was still a bishop in Poland, the communist government built a new town that intentionally excluded any church. So, he would go and celebrate mass in an open field there. The people would gather while the army surrounded them. He told the people that no power or circumstance is able to take the Church away because they themselves are the Church. He continued to push for and eventually built a very large Church building in that town. A building that rightly symbolized the living faith of that Catholic community. A building that is an irrefutable testimony to the living Lord Jesus Christ before the leaders of that state. A building that is a visible reminder of their faithful perseverance in the midst of ongoing persecution.
The Church is not first of all a building. The Church (the Temple) is our bodies, our lives (individual life and family life), and our community life. The Church is every member united to one another because we are each united to Christ. This is why we must pray for one another, why we must forgive one another, why we must feed and clothe and teach and welcome one another. This is why we must be faithful to always worship with one another. When we do this, a beautifully adorned church building is rightly a visible image of the living faith of the people who gather there.
What picture or image enters your mind when you think of the Church?