Sunday, November 8, 2015

Reflections for the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Temple of God

On this Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome, our readings focus on the many meanings of the Temple of God. First off, a temple is a place of encounter between God and humanity. It's a place of prayer and worship and sacrifice, a place where people fall down before God in adoration and receive His forgiveness and blessings. 

In the past, the Temple was a physical building in Jerusalem. King Solomon built the first Temple, a magnificent building filled with luxurious materials that symbolized the Israelites' best gifts to God. That Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, who carried the Israelites into exile. Eventually, the exiles returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple, but it was never again as grand as before. In the second century B.C., the Temple was again desecrated by Gentiles. Judas Maccabeus, the great Jewish military and spiritual leader, defeated the Gentile armies and rededicated the Temple. In Jesus' day, the Temple was still central to Jewish life, but that would all change in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem, leaving the Temple in ruins, never to be rebuilt.

Long before the physical Temple's destruction, however, prophets began to speak of a new kind of Temple. Our first reading today is a prime example. The prophet Ezekiel, writing during the Babylonian exile, received a vision of water flowing out of the Temple's façade. This water begins as a mere trickle but, as the prophet walks along, the water deepens and widens until it becomes a great river. This river brings life to whatever it touches. Fish and animals thrive in and around it. Trees line its banks, trees that always provide fruit for food and leaves for medicine. When this river touches the salt waters of the sea, it makes them fresh and clear. Looking back on this prophecy through the lens of Christ, we can recognize the living water that He provides: the Holy Spirit and the waters of baptism. 

This brings us, then, to another Temple, one that is far superior to any physical building. Jesus refers to this Temple in today's Gospel. After chasing the money-changers out of the Jerusalem Temple, Jesus says something rather strange: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews, of course, thought He was speaking of the actual Temple building, but He wasn't. He was speaking of His own body. Jesus, then, is the new Temple. He is the ultimate meeting place of divinity and humanity, for He is both fully God and fully Man. He is also both priest and victim, offering His Father perfect prayer, perfect worship, and the perfect sacrifice of His very self. From His own body flows the living water: the Holy Spirit and the waters of baptism (opened up by the lance that pierced Christ on the cross). 

We are members of Jesus' Body, which is the Church. Therefore, we, too, are part of this new Temple. The Church is our place of encounter with God. We receive His sanctifying grace in Baptism, when His divine life comes to dwell within us. We receive His forgiveness and grace in Reconciliation. We receive His very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist, when we join our sacrifices to His sacrifice made present for us on the altar. 

Finally, we ourselves, are temples of God, as our second reading informs us. When we are in a state of grace, God dwells within us. We are consecrated, set apart, for Him, holy and beloved. We encounter Him in the depths of our hearts, in prayer and sacrifice, in joy and sorrow. At every moment, He is with us, in us, loving us, supporting us, holding us, transforming us from the inside out, in the temples of our souls, where we adore Him, worship Him, and love Him. 

Tuesday – Unprofitable Servants

In today's Gospel, Jesus asks His apostles a question: “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?”

The obvious answer is “No one.” No master would say such a thing. Instead, as Jesus continues, a master would order his servant to “‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished.’”

When the servant follows these orders, then, the master isn't particularly grateful. After all, the servant is just doing what he is told. He's not going above and beyond in his service. He's plodding along whether he wants to or not. He is not a very profitable servant; he's merely doing his job.

We can draw several lessons from this parable:

1. We, too, are unprofitable servants when we plod along doing just enough to get by without making a special effort to grow in love and service.

2. God doesn't owe us anything even though He has given us everything we have, including our very selves. He gives us the grace that saves us and even the gift of faith to accept that grace. We get nothing from ourselves. We don't earn Heaven.

3. Our job is to cooperate with God's grace and accept His gifts, and we should do so with love and enthusiasm. We ought to be eager to serve our God and to serve our neighbor for God's sake. We are called to surrender our entire selves, going above and beyond the call of mere duty to the self-giving heights of true love.

4. God actually does what human masters do not. God calls us to Him, sets us a place at His table, and serves us His meal. In the Eucharist, we receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord and God Jesus Christ. He gives Himself to us in a radical way, raising us up from unprofitable servants to God's beloved children. 

Wednesday – Gratitude

Jesus heals ten lepers in today's Gospel, but only one of them comes back to thank Him, and he was a Samaritan. This should give us a little poke in the conscience. How often do we pause to thank God for all His gifts? Do we thank Him for the salvation He gives us, for the divine life He has poured into us, for the sacraments, for His forgiveness, for His love beyond measure? 

Take a few minutes today to express your gratitude to God, and try to make it a habit. We never really realize what God has done for us until we stop to thank Him for it.

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