You are the Temple of the Living God

 

Sunday November 9, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier     Dedication of Saint John Lateran

Reading I (Ezekiel 47:1-2, 8-9, 12)  

Reading II (1 Corinthians 3:9c-11, 16-17)

Gospel (St. John 2:13-22)

 

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the dedication of the church of Saint John Lateran. It is perhaps a church that most of us have not even heard of, and we might wonder why it is that we are celebrating such a dedication. The church of Saint John Lateran is actually the mother church of all churches in the world. That is because it is the cathedral church of the diocese of Rome. Saint Peter’s Basilica is not the Pope’s cathedral, but rather the church of Saint John Lateran is the Pope’s cathedral. Yet there never was a saint by the name of Saint John Lateran – it is actually named after Saint John the Evangelist – but it has that name because the land was donated by the Lateran family. And so it is the place where everything else flows from, as far as where the authority of the Church resides.

 

But beyond that, as the readings make very clear to us, we are made into the holy temple of God – living stones, as Saint Paul would call us, being formed into an edifice in the Spirit for the glory of God. And before we look at our own individual selves as temples of God, we need to look at what we heard in the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel is shown by the angel a river that flows out from under the temple. When he goes inside the temple, he sees that the river is actually beginning as a little trickle coming from the sanctuary area, from underneath the altar. When we look elsewhere in Scripture, we recognize that water is a symbol of grace, and the point of this is that grace flows from the altar of God. Indeed, all grace flows from the altar of God because Jesus Christ, Who is present in the Eucharist, is the grace of God. So everything flows from the altar. It is interesting to note that this river begins as just a trickle coming forth from beneath the altar. If we were to continue on with the reading, this is where Ezekiel is made to wade out into the water. After measuring out a thousand cubits, the water is up to his ankles; in another thousand, it is up to his waist; in another thousand, it is up to his chest; and after another thousand, it is a river so vast and deep that he could only cross it by swimming. It starts out small and it grows, and it is all flowing from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It flows from the Cross; it flows from the Blessed Sacrament.

 

And so for each one of us, if we want to be able to access those waters which flow from the sanctuary, we need to make sure that we are uniting ourselves with Christ not only in prayer and in the reality of who we are as Christian people, but in His sacrifice, to be united with Him in offering Himself to the Father. This is something which is incumbent upon each of us because, as Saint Paul tells us, we are temples of the Lord. Now there are two points that we need to look at. First of all, when Our Lord tells His enemies, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days,” Saint John makes the point clear that He was speaking about the temple of His body. Saint Paul makes that point very clear as well: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, it is a temple of the Most Holy Trinity because, outside of the immanent Trinity itself, anywhere that one Person of the Trinity is present all Three are present. The Holy Trinity dwells within you, and that means that you are the temple of God. It also means that as everything flows with regard to grace from the altar of God and from the sanctuary of the Lord making everything fresh and pure so it happens within your own self.

 

Jesus tells us, for instance, in Saint John’s Gospel that anyone who loves Him that springs of water will flow out from within him and they will spring up to become fountains to everlasting life. That is going to flow from your heart, which is the sanctuary of the living God within your temple. Just like when you come into the church, it is a large building and yet it is from the communion rail forward that we would call the sanctuary. The same is true of the old temple in Jerusalem. It was a very large temple, but the area that was the sanctuary, the holy place, was a very small area by comparison. Your whole body is the temple of the Holy Spirit but your heart is the holy of holies. Your heart is the sanctuary of the living God where the Lord dwells within you – provided, of course, that you are in the state of grace. It is from there that grace will flow out, springing up to become fountains leading you to eternal life.

 

But more than that, Ezekiel tells us that the water which flows from the sanctuary flows down into the Arabah, the desert places, and finally into the sea, the salt water, to make it fresh. So too, we can look at what happens at Mass and we realize that the grace which flows from the altar of Jesus Christ flows out from the sanctuary into the world, which has become a desert, watering it. And for anyone who wishes, they can come to this flow of grace and there they will find healing for themselves. There they will find true life so that every creature, as Ezekiel points out, that has life will live there; not every creature who has natural life, but every one of us sharing in the supernatural life of God. All of us who share in grace will find in this river a place where we are going to be healed and a place where life is going to be not only sustained but built up.

 

And then it flows finally into the salt waters making them fresh, all the areas of sin, all the areas that, while they look real good, are not because you cannot drink of the water of the sea. So too, in our world we have the devil presenting to us all kinds of things that look good, but, of course, are not. We need to be very cautious to stay only where the grace of God is at work. If the grace of God is not present, we need to avoid those places. But within our own selves the same thing remains true, that the grace of God flows from our choices. The dwelling place of God is our soul (or the heart, if you want to think of it that way, the sanctuary of the Lord) and everything else flows from there. If we choose to cooperate with God and with His grace, rivers of life will flow out from within and they will purify everything else, all the woundedness within us, the sins that we have committed, the violations of our dignity whether done by ourselves or to us by another; all of these things can be healed by the grace of God. It is within this river of life that we will find true life for ourselves And it is from this river where those areas of our lives where we have been duped by Satan – where we thought something was good when it was not, because it glittered we thought it was gold, because it seemed good we assumed it must have been of God – these waters will purify that and we will be able to see clearly to be able to choose only what is true, only what is good, only what is the Will of God, so that these rivers will indeed become within us springs that well up to eternal life.

 

But there is also another point that we need to look at in that second reading. Saint Paul tells us that the temple of God is holy and that “if anyone destroys that temple God will destroy him because you are that temple, and the temple of God is holy.” God has chosen you for Himself. He has consecrated you in Baptism and He has sanctified you with His grace. He has made you holy. Now, in our false humility we would like to be able to look at that and say, “Oh, no, no, no. Not me. No, I can’t do that.” That is wrong, and that is to reject the truth that God Himself has revealed not only to you but about you. It is to accept the lie of Satan to be able to say, “I cannot be holy. I cannot be the temple of the living God. I’m too worthless. I’m no good. This cannot happen to me. Everybody else, certainly I can understand; they’re all good – but not me.” Oh, how the devil likes to do that to each one of us. All of us looking at everyone else, saying, “All of you can be holy, all of you can be the temple of God, but not me.” It’s funny, if everything thinks that they can’t do it, no one will be. Everyone else is worthy but no one thinks themselves to be such. We reject God’s gift. We reject the grace. We reject the Holy Trinity Who desires to dwell within because we refuse to accept the gift and the Giver, which in this case is one and the same.

 

And so what happens is that because we refuse to accept the truth we go about to destroy the temple of God. It is an odd thing in human psychology that when we want to fight against the Lord, when we reject His truths, we tend to go to the opposite extreme to be able to demonstrate by our own foolishness that this simply cannot be true. There are some who are completely duped in our day, who do not know the truth and therefore deface the temple of God regularly. We have, for instance, this sudden outburst of tattoos, which are mortal sins, that people are putting all over their bodies and putting, in essence, graffiti all over the temple of God. Worse than just graffiti, most of these things are diabolical, and so you are literally painting Satan on the temple of the living God. We have others who are putting holes all over their bodies, all over their faces, all over their bodies wherever they can find a place, sometimes in the most intimate parts of their being, defacing the temple of God. It would be like if we took a jackhammer and every once in a while just put a hole in the floor. What would the church look like? Holes in the walls and holes in the floor. We could say we did this to make it more beautiful, when in fact all that we did was to destroy the temple of God. Others will violate their temple by alcohol, drunkenness, by drugs, by abusing themselves in one form or another or by abusing someone else. When we refuse to accept the dignity of the human person, ourselves or another, we reject God Who made us in His own image and likeness and Who has given Himself to us to be the Inhabitant of our temple. We need to take very seriously those words of Saint Paul: “The temple of God is holy, and if anyone destroys that temple God will destroy Him.” Imagine standing before God on the Day of Judgment and having to answer to Him for why you destroyed His temple. That would not be a very good day for us. We need to make sure that we care for the temple of God.

 

Now there are some people who go to the extreme in caring only externally for it, making sure that they are exercising for hours a day and that they eat only certain things, and so on and so forth, but they pay no attention to the sanctuary. It is like if we made sure that the outside of the church was sandblasted and everything looked real nice and we had it all spiffed up, and  you came inside and the sanctuary was in shambles and things were laying all over and it had not been cleaned for years. They do not pray. They do not do anything to build up the sanctuary of the living God. They only want the outside of the temple to look good so it impresses the people who look at them, but God is looking at the inside as well as the outside. And what is most important is what happens in the sanctuary, what happens in the heart where you commune with the living God and from where those rivers of living water flow.

 

You are holy, and you are called to great holiness. You are called to share in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and to make that choice with your free will, with your heart, to unite yourself to Jesus in His sacrifice. As you come here on Sunday (and many of you, everyday) and unite yourself with the sacrifice of Jesus on the altar of God from which all grace flows, so too, within your own lives you are to live that sacrifice, to unite yourself with Christ every moment of every day and offer yourself as a living sacrifice, as Saint Paul tells us to do. In this way, the life of Christ will be lived in us and we will bring those living waters out into the world to change the desert into a place of springs and the salty places into places that are fresh. That is what God desires from each one of us: to recognize the holiness of the temple of God, to unite ourselves with the sacrifice of Christ, and to become holy not only in theory but in fact by accepting the dignity that God has given us and uniting ourselves with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ in our hearts so that our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit, and our hearts, the sanctuary of the living God, become truly the dwelling place of God and the place from which all grace will flow.

 

*  This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.