I would always make it a point to spend some time in the basilicas or cathedral churches of the various cities I was able to visit. I remember the first time I entered St. Peter’s Basilica; I was overwhelmed by the size of it, the beauty and the majesty of the place. It gave me a remarkable sense of God’s presence and an awareness of the lives of the saints, many of whom were memorialized in that very Church.
You can tell a lot about a city from the cathedrals and churches that are found there. If you have ever been to any major city, in Europe or right here in the United States, you know that is true. But not all cities are alike, and not all churches are either.
I remember once, in my third year as a seminarian, I had the chance to travel with some classmates to Southern France. We came to the ancient city of Arles, which was in the midst of celebrating its annual festival, but the central focus was certainly not Christ or the lives of the saints. In fact, one of the main attractions of that city was bullfighting!
On the day we arrived a bullfight was taking place and thousands of people in that city had gathered in the local arena to watch it. Yet as we walked through the streets of that city over the course of the next several days, we were not able to find a single open church or Mass anywhere.
Finally we saw what appeared to be an old cathedral, but as we entered we realized it had long ago ceased to be an active church and had been turned, instead, into a museum. All of the side altars were still present, but the sacred altar stones had been removed and the altars were now covered with plywood.
But most disturbing of all was that each of the altars now displayed photographs of bullfights, depicting the various stages of that rather graphic sport as it was taking place. You could make out clearly where statues, icons and images of Christ would have been, but now there was quite a different focus and very different priorities in that “church.”
You really can tell a lot about a city by the churches and the places of worship that are found there!
In our second reading this morning, from the Book of Revelation, St. John describes the vision he had of heaven, and the capital city, the heavenly Jerusalem. He says:
The angel took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.
He describes that city in great detail, how magnificent, brilliant and radiant it was. But then he goes on to say:
I saw no temple in the city…
No temple?! How is that possible? The capital city of heaven and there is no temple whatsoever, no place to worship God. But St. John continues to explain that there was no temple because:
…its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb.
God Himself is the temple. God is the place of worship for the people of the heavenly city. In the end, there will be no pilgrimages to St. Peter’s Basilica; we will not gather in cathedral churches at all. Those who worship God will dwell in Him. We will have a real and intimate relationship with God and that will be our worship.
But that real and intimate relationship is not one that begins at the end of this life, or the end of this world. We begin right here and now to dwell with God and to worship Him “in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Jesus Christ, in the gospel this morning, puts it this way:
Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.
And so, with that in mind, we can ask ourselves this morning: “What’s in your temple?” We have all heard the question on the TV commercial asking, “What’s in your wallet?” Well, today we can ask ourselves: What’s in your temple?
Are there things in our temple that do not belong there? Maybe not pictures of bullfights, but are there things that would distract us from that intimate relationship God is calling us to? Are we holding onto any habits or personal sins that keep us from growing in our faith? Is there anything in our temple that needs to go?
Secondly, is there room for prayer in that dwelling place that we have with God? How important is prayer in our daily lives? Do we set aside time each day to be alone and quiet before God?
Finally, no cathedral or basilica would be complete without some special place for the Blessed Sacrament. Here at Our Lady of Mercy the tabernacle is right in the center of our church. The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the center of our lives; the Blessed Sacrament is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium, #11). Is He at the center of your life, guiding everything you do?
Once again, on this Sixth Sunday of Easter, we take a moment to answer that one simple question:
“What’s in your temple?”