I once visited a church that was no longer a church. It had been sold and deconsecrated. The Eucharist was no longer there, but many of the symbols of our faith remained. The altar stood useless against the back wall. Colored light came through the windows, but fell upon the remnants of an exodus. Statues of saints kept vigil over the hallowed memories of a fallen temple. The church had become a banquet hall. The sacristy and sanctuary had become staging for the head table. Feasts were now served in the Holy of Holies. The center of the nave, where the faithful once knelt in worship and prayer, was now a dance floor. The paintings, the statuary, all of the Catholic imagery which once elevated the spirit, were now so much kitsch in an alternative party venue. It was heartbreaking.
This weekend, Saint Paul reminds us, “you are the temple of God,...the Spirit of God dwells in you.” All of our beautiful churches—from Saint John Lateran and Saint Peter’s in Rome, to Blessed Sacrament and Saint Michael’s in Providence—are mere shadows of a true temple. They pale in comparison to the beauty of a soul that houses the presence of God. Occasionally, it is important to ask ourselves, “how is this temple doing?” That ex-church I visited had all the elements of worship, but they were all used for some other purpose. They were directed away from God. We might ask ourselves whether that is true about our own temple. This imagination, meant to lead me to the contemplation and love of God, how do I use it? These hands, meant to offer service to my neighbor, how do I use them? These lips, this tongue, meant to offer praise to God and consolation to others, how do I employ them? If we are temples of God, occasionally we need to ask whether we are serving our purpose.
In this Sunday’s gospel, Jesus cleanses the temple: “stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.” He spills coins, flips over tables, and drives out both men and beasts with a whip. He is zealous for the house of God. What then does he think at every Eucharist when he visits the temple of my soul? Are there money-changers and senseless beasts in my heart? If so, the only rational thing to do is to join Jesus and start flipping tables, to side with him against the vices and evil company of my heart, to be consumed by zeal for this house of God. That ex-church, overrun by the world, was a terrible sight. But that was mere stone and glass. Far worse is the neglected soul where God is an embarrassed guest.