Saturday, May 28, 2005

Temples of Presence

Not long ago I was driving through a small coastal town, and as I passed the tiny Catholic mission church there, I received an instantaneous flash. I will try to unpack and briefly express here what I realized in those few seconds.

It is something that probably we all know already, but it hit me with a force that made it seem quite new. It has to do with Presence. The Lord Jesus is bodily, sacramentally present in the Holy Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle. This extraordinary Presence is unique to Catholic (and Orthodox) churches. People were milling about the streets, shopping, talking, eating, totally oblivious to the astounding truth that God was dwelling right in their midst.

Of course, we rightly say in our prayer that the Spirit of God is "everywhere present and filling all things." But this does not diminish or take away from the truth that God has chosen certain places to be temples of his Presence in a unique and extraordinary way. In the Old Testament, the temple in Jerusalem was the Lord's dwelling place, a place where people could enter his presence with their worship and supplications. This was a foreshadowing of Christian temples in which God would dwell, not only through and among the media of artifacts of his mighty works in the history of his people (the ark of the covenant, the tablets of the law, etc), but in the very person of his only-begotten Son, the incarnate Word of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, wholly present in the Blessed Sacrament.

No one seemed aware of it in that little town, but the Lord was there, silently blessing his people, hearing the unspoken cries of their hearts, absorbing their pain into his own pierced heart--as well as patiently enduring their heedlessness, unbelief, and sinful words and behavior.

How oblivious and insensitive we are to the presence of God, who silently and lovingly reigns over the world through the temples of his Presence that He has distributed all over the face of the earth. Walk down the street and what do you see? A gift store, a coffee shop, a gallery, the dwelling place of God, a little inn, a gas station. It's incredible when you think about it! So think about it. God has come to earth to be with us, to bless and save us, and we just walk by.

There is more. Jesus said, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him" (John 6:56). The Presence of God who dwells in the tabernacle, whom we worship at the Divine Liturgy or Mass, enters our souls and bodies through Holy Communion. Then what happens? We ourselves become temples of Presence! If people aren't going to acknowledge God's presence in the churches in their midst, then we have to personally bring his presence to others through the manifestation of our faith and love for God.

Christ is in our midst. Worship Him in his holy temple, with love and gratitude that He has chosen to sanctify the earth (and perhaps even your own neighborhood) with his Divine Presence in the tabernacle. Visit the Presence in his temple, then go and be his Presence for others, for He dwells in you too. "The temple of God is holy, and you are that temple" (1Corinthians 3:17).