Sunday, November 8, 2015

Homily, Signs of Heavenly Realities

XXXI Sunday of Ordinary Time
Santa Susanna Parish
Roma, IT
November 8, 2015

Our second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews reminds me of a few years ago when I had the privilege of studying archeology in the Holy Land. For three whole weeks we followed some of the best archeologists in the world to some of the most magnificent cites. Yet, the one that struck out to me and, indeed, we kept coming back to, was the Temple there in Jerusalem. While all that remains of the Temple is its foundation, the Temple Mount, I was impressed by its size and grandeur, covering a space equal or greater to the city around it and dominating the skyline; it has no rival. And to think that this was just the foundation. I loved the many images and reconstructions of the actual Temple which helped me imagine the beauty and majesty of this lost place of worship. The pristine gold and white rock of its structure; the structured and tiered areas of worship; the altars of incense and sacrifice; the decorations that would have adorned its walls; and of course the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy of Holies, the sanctuary made by human hands where God Himself dwelt. 

This beautiful place was the culmination of thousands of years of meticulous and pain-staking attention to detail in the worship of God. From Moses following the tedious book length instructions of the Lord in building the Ark of the Covenant; to David who fought endless battles with numberless armies to secure the Holy Mountain of God, the city of peace, Jerusalem in the heart of the promised land; to finally Solomon, the wise king and son of David, who would lavishly build this Temple. And why? Because they believed that these signs and symbols contained in the Temple, the actions and gestures of worship, the sacrifice and incense they offered were copies of the heavenly original, shadows of the celestial reality. Yes they believed that in a mysterious way their sanctuary made by human hands was a reflection of the very same which existed in heaven. Why else would God dwell there, if it were not familiar to Him? And by building and acting out these liturgies, they participated in the adoration of the one true God in Heaven, Adonai. 

And we, Christians, heirs of this great mystery, do the very same. Look around you! We built big beautiful churches. And we feel this in Rome where every church we see seems to be the most elegant, stunning, and beautiful church we have ever seen such that we find ourselves saying over and over again: “this is the most beautiful church I have ever seen.” Why did our forefathers in faith do this? Why did they spend such time and money? Was it really to show off their power and wealth as we so often hear from our tour guides? Certainly intentions are always mixed, but deep down they wished to show off not their own riches but the riches of Christ and the heavenly kingdom to which these churches testify. Indeed, they believed that Christ their Savior who suffered, died, and was buried, rose again on the third day and ascended into heaven (not that old Temple built by human hands). Now He sits at the right hand of God the Father to intercede for us that the merits of His one sacrifice on the Cross, His blood might wash away our sins. And so to await His coming again (as St. Paul mentions today), such generous souls have created these magnificent and beautiful structures, these churches where we can already now see as through a mirror those heavenly realities that will one day be ours!

Yet there is another such Temple or church which is itself a mere copy of what we will have in heaven. If the Temple and the church are images of heaven, so too our own bodies are that new temple or dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. For when Jesus said—“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19)—He was not speaking of the stones and mortar before Him. No, as John the beloved disciple tells us in the margin notes—“But He spoke of the temple of His body”! (Jn 2:21). And so now our own bodies are images of what we will become after the resurrection when we will have glorified bodies. As St. Paul says—“Our homeland is in heaven, and from it we await our Savior Jesus Christ who will change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body (Phil 3:20-21). 

And so like the Temple and the church we must adorn and decorate this new temple. We must treat ourselves with the utmost care and respect realizing that we are signs of heavenly realities. I do not speak here of tattoos, piercings, or elegant clothing for these do not highlight the way we will be in heaven. No, like the church and Temple, we must be true images of that sanctuary not made by human hands. So we must dress ourselves with great modesty and out of respect of the purity we will have in heaven—blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. We must refrain from any behavior that is demeaning or damaging to the body. We must be healthy and moderate, for this is a dwelling place of God.    

If you will allow me another example, the Church requires priests and religious to refrain from marriage. Only months ago, I promised the Church that I would live a celibate life. While the reasons for this discipline are many, one of the under appreciated reasons is the sign-value, that is, the testimony such a celibate life gives to our future heavenly life. For as Jesus says—“For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mk 12:25). Thus, when one does marry here in this life, we qualify the vow, saying the proverbial “till death do us part.” In short, those who choose to live a celibate life do so as a sign of that future life; they have started their heavenly life early, so to speak. We stand like the Temple and the church as a sign of how things are in heaven. 

What of marriage, then? Do married couples have no sign-value? Of course not. St. Paul says that that marriage is a profound mystery, because if refers to Christ and His Church (Cf. Eph 5:32). Thus, marriage, your marriages, should (like the church and the Temple) be signs or shadows of the marriage in heaven between Christ and His bride the Church. Would that when people look at us they react as we do when we walk into these churches, not seeing the work of human hands, but seeing the reflection of that heavenly reality, eternal life with God. 

No comments:

Post a Comment