Sunday, March 11, 2012

We are temples of the Holy Spirit

A man went to confession and said, “Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. I’ve stolen some lumber.” The priest asked, “Are you sorry for your sin, my son?” “Yes, Father,” the man replied. The priest said, “For your penance say three Our Fathers and four Hail Marys. Your sins are forgiven.” The next week, the man returned: “Father, forgive me. I stole some lumber–again.” “Again?” the priest asked, “Well, are you sorry for your sin?” “Yes I am Father, and I’ll work harder to avoid this sin in the future,” the guy said. “Very well,” says the priest. “For your penance, say three Our Fathers and four Hail Marys. Your sins are forgiven.” But the next week the man was back again. The now exasperated priest said, “What? Again you stole lumber?” “Yes, Father, I have. I am so ashamed,” said the man. “Well now,” the priest said, “For your penance this time, you’ll have to make a novena. Tell me, my son, do you know how to make a novena?” Shaking his head the man said, “Father, I don’t know how to make a novena. But if you have the plans, I have the lumber.”

I want to invite you to think about a simple question today as we gather here in our Church. Why was this church built? There are a couple of ways to answer that. Historically, our Church was tied directly to the Cape Cod Canal that sits right out our front door. For those who didn’t know, St. Margaret’s was built in 1915 as a mission of Corpus Christi Church in Sandwich mainly to serve the population that suddenly appeared here as a result of the digging of the canal at the same time. We didn’t become a separate parish until 1946 when two mission churches – St. Margaret’s and St. Mary’s (which was a mission of St. Patrick’s) were formed into a single parish community.

So, that is one answer to the question of why this church was built. But, there is also another answer – this church was built to be a temple. This Church – in fact, every Catholic church – are not built to be merely ordinary spaces. This isn’t a meeting place or an auditorium or a theater where we go to see a play or a concert. A temple is a building that is built for a singular and unique purpose – to immerse us in the drama of our relationship with God. And, notice that I said “our relationship with God,” not “my” or “your” relationship with God. Because while we may come here for private prayer from time-to-time, the main reason for this building is to serve as the place where we as God’s family play our roles in the great drama of God coming to us and our going back to God as His family.

A temple is, of course, a building dedicated to God. But it's more than that. It's a sacred space, a space unlike all others and one where we enter so that we can be truly present with our God. A temple is God's house; a place where God and you and me, can be together with each other. God is really and truly present here; as this is His house. The flickering red candle with its eternal flame always burning is a signal telling us that the Eternal One dwells here, in this place.

And, it is because of that real dwelling of God that we act differently here than we do everywhere else. Have you ever thought about that? We have a whole set of rules and customs and behaviors that we do here and only here. Just think of the ways that we show a special reverence here. We enter with a spirit of prayerful silence. We genuflect to the Real Presence of Christ dwelling in the tabernacle. Men remove their hats. We all dress respectfully. Here we kneel and bow and give our attention in a way that shows that we know that God dwells here and we have come here to worship Him.

This brings us to our Gospel today. This extraordinary passage that is really the only recorded angry outburst of Jesus in Scripture. What explains the anger we see today as Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables and drove the them out the Jerusalem Temple? The Gospel gave us the answer, “Zeal for [God’s] house will consume me.” In today’s passage, Jesus found the Temple being treated like a shopping center, or a bank. Jesus viewed this as an insult to God – to change His house; the place where He dwells into anything other than the sacred space it was meant to be. And how right Jesus is. I’m sure we, too, would react the same if this temple, this church, were being used in a way that somehow insulted God.

But, there is something more to this passage today as well. The Jerusalem Temple was not the only temple. This Church, and any Catholic Church, these are not the only structures where God dwells. In His resurrection, Jesus reminded us that each of us, too, is a temple. That, through our baptism, through Confirmation, through each and every Eucharist, God dwells in us. Each one of us here is a Temple of the Holy Spirit; a dwelling of God’s presence. Each one of us here was brought into being and designed by God for the purpose of making Him present to others, especially when they enter encounter we who believe in Jesus. Each one of us here is a walking, living temple of God’s presence through which we are meant to make God present to others. We receive the living Body of Jesus in Holy Communion so that God might dwell within us. Here we become what we truly are - the living stones of God's temple here on earth.

Remember what was said of the early followers, “See how these Christians love one another.” As living, breathing, walking, talking Temples of the Holy Spirit; Temples of the Presence of God, we are meant to be visibly different in the world – different in a way that makes others feel as though they have encountered something of God when they meet one of His followers; when they meet us.

”Zeal for [God’s] house will consume us.” The fundamental question for each of us today is simply this: What sort of Temple am I? Am I a Temple of God that would find favor with Jesus? The answer to that question is what Lent is all about. Lent is given to us each year so that we might examine and perhaps change what is inside of us that keeps us from being a truly holy Temple.

Lent comes to us in the springtime, in fact the word “lent” means “springtime.” Spring is a time when we usually do our spring cleaning. We open up the windows and let the warm spring breezes blow through our houses to clean away all of the stale winter air. We plant flowers, we paint the walls, and we fix up and clean up so that our dwelling places can be healthy places in which to live, and inviting places for others to enter. Shouldn't we do the same for God?

My friends, allow this Lent to be a time for the warm breezes of the Holy Spirit to sweep through our souls; refreshing us, making us new. Allow God to renew and strengthen His deep abiding presence in each of us so that we can reflect Him to the world around us. Make the Sacrament of Reconciliation a key part of your spiritual spring cleaning this Lent. And as you receive Holy Communion today – God’s true and abiding presence – welcome that same living God to dwell in the Temple that is you once again. Let zeal for God’s Temple that is you consume you.

May God give you peace.

(Based on a reflection by Fr. Charles Irwin.

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