God Dwelling Among Men
December 27, 537 AD, was a day of triumph for the Christian Roman Emperor, Justinian I. On that date he attended the dedication of the great church of Holy Wisdom (Sancta Sophia or Hagia Sophia) that is still the chief monument of Constantinople (Istanbul). Justinian had entrusted the design of the building to Anthemius of Tralles and Isodorus of Miletus, and these architects had produced an epochal masterpiece. A vast and subtle structure of many domes, its interior was sheathed with marbles and fine mosaics. King Solomon had built a magnificent temple in Jerusalem, but Justinian boasted, with permissible pride, “Solomon, I have vanquished you!”
There is an old running debate among Christians whether it is better to spend money on splendid churches or to keep the churches simple and to spend the money on the needy. In one sense, Jesus Himself solved this dilemma. When the devout woman of Bethany anointed His feet with costly perfume, some of the disciples said, “This is waste, it would have been better to spend the price on the poor!” Our Lord countered by praising her good intentions, and said she was preparing His body for burial. “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”
It would certainly be irresponsible to spend thousands on a building when the local people were in the clutches of poverty. But a beautiful church is an alms to another sort of poverty – poverty of heart. For ages Christians have had their hearts lifted by the sight of a great cathedral. Its loveliness enthralls them and reminds them that God dwells there in a special way. Surely a beautiful home is becoming to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
The more we reverence God’s home the more we will reverence God. By blessing ourselves with holy water on entering, by maintaining a devout silence in church, by doing our best to ward off from it anything irreverent or unseemly, we are saying to God, as in today’s liturgy, “Your house is a house of prayer, and Your presence makes it a place of blessing.”
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q422: Isn’t Jesus asking the “impossible” when he asks his disciples to “love one another” (Jn 13:31-35)? Can anything be harder?
St. Augustine also wrestled with the question of love, and demonstrated through the life of Jesus that love conquers all. Available on the “New Advent” website is his “Homily 7 on the Epistle of John” which contains the famous phrase, “love and do what you will.” His example contrasts the actions of beating and caressing: which of those two would you rather receive? Which is better: a father chastising his son, or a pedophile caressing his object of lust? Everything depends on what is in the heart of the person before and during the action.
Augustine’s point is his interpretation of Jesus’ command to love one another as He has loved us. Some things may have a good appearance, but one’s actions are only discerned by the root of charity. This is why he confidently says, “love and do what you will.” If you have a right relationship with God and with others, then you have nothing to worry about. This kind of love is a sacrificial love, not a selfish love. It only thinks of the best for the other person – even if that “best” means corrective action out of love. If this kind of love is within you, then with Augustine we say “from this root can spring nothing but what is good.”
Our First Reading (Acts 14:21-27) gives evidence of what happens when this “root” is nourished properly. The apostles and evangelists did this by encouraging the disciples, reminding them that persecution and suffering was a probability. Most importantly, they engaged in regular and frequent prayer, and service to others. The results were evident: God himself had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Do you “nourish your root” of faith with regular prayer and fasting? Do you encourage your family members to do likewise? If yes, then the Holy Spirit will help you discern actions which do not stem from charity or love (CCC #2847). Strive to follow the example of love set by Christ.
Everything Old is New Again
“What goes around, comes around.” “There is nothing new under the sun.” Lots of people see it that way, but today’s liturgy sees it differently. Paul and Barnabas report on the wonderful results of their mission. They preached the same gospel that had been preached in Israel, but now the Greeks respond with a new enthusiasm and zeal that transforms a small Jewish sect into a great world religion. Something old has become something new. John’s vision of the New Jerusalem and its temple recalls the old Jerusalem and its temple as the material symbol of God’s presence. But this Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, symbolizes God’s presence among the New People of God, not in a temple shrine, but in the assembled faithful, the Mystical Body of his Son. And then Christ himself speaks of giving us a new commandment: “Love one another.” What was so new about that. Hadn’t the Old Testament commanded love of god and love of neighbor? Yes, but Jesus added something new: “as I have loved you.” The new is not a simple repetition of the old; it is the perfection and fulfillment of the old.
Come Holy Spirit and fill the hearts of the faithful. Enkindle in us the fire of thy love. Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.