If it be true what they say today, namely that "We all worship the same God" then why would that `same' God issue a series of commandments, the first of which is: I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before me? Why would God have to command us to show our love for Him by our worship and obedience to Him if religion is an intrinsic element in the constitution of man?
There must be other gods who are worshipped by God's intelligent creatures and if anyone refuses to recognize this, it is certainly not God Himself. Otherwise there would be no need for heaven to thunder down to Moses and warn him of heaven's righteous indignation.
Another natural phenomenon in man's nature is that of making sacrifices. This natural action on the part of man has also suffered distortion. The greatest corruption of this natural propensity to sacrifice is found in the realm of religion.
Sacrifice, in a way, is the visible proof of one's interior dispositions. That is why even the smallest sacrifice was required from Adam.
Whether other sacrifices were required from Adam, we do not know. But we do know of the one sacrifice God required of him. It was a simple act of obedience, a conforming of one's will with the will of God: "And the Lord God commanded the man thus: `From every tree of the garden you may eat; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you must not eat; for the day you eat of it, you must die'"( Gen.2, 16).
This was the only sacrifice God required of Adam because for the rest, he was already constituted in grace - as was all of creation.
Man was not the result of evolution. He was a distinct creation of God. He did not have an uncle who was a monkey although monkeys had relatives among their own kind, just as a wart hog had someone to share his warts. But, Adam was distinct; Adam was one; Adam was taken from the earth. He was not a monkey mutant. He was placed over all of creation. He had dominion over all of creation. All creatures came to him, obeyed him and received from him their name: "The man named all the cattle, all the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field; but he found no helper like himself." (Ibid. 2,20).
All nature recognized in Adam their Lord and Master. Certainly, not the Supreme Lord and Master, but more like the Vicar of God on earth. All of nature trusted, one might say, their Master and obeyed him. He gave them their names because only he can give a name who is the origin of something or someone; only he can give the name who is the source or placed over the other. A Father gives the child's name because he is over the child and the mother. Unlike the rebellious attitude of wild women, the right order established by God from the very beginning of all nature, it was the man who was placed over all - including the companion which God gave him.
The woman is from man. She is not his equal by virtue of time; she is only equal to man by virtue of the fact that she is of his flesh.
It is God who creates; it is God who fashions everything and it is God who brings all these beings to the man. We are not speaking of all human beings in general. We are speaking of distinct individual human beings.
The man said: "She now is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, for from man she has been taken." (Ibid. 2,23).
Moses adds: "For this reason a man leaves his father and mother, and clings to his wife, and the two become one flesh." (Ibid. 2,24).
The duty to perform the acts of worship to God were entrusted to the head of the first family. It is never the wife who must perform the religious duties of the household, but the man. By becoming one flesh with her husband, the wife participates in this act of worship through her oneness with her husband.
While the First Lady of creation and her Lord kept the order established by God, all nature obeyed them and they were clothed not in garments but in the grace of God.
The Serpent approached the woman to tempt her against meritorious obedience: first against her husband and through him against God.
Eve was deceived by a lesser creature which the devil used to get to her. Having fallen, she must have experienced the lack of grace she once had. She was definitely alone now because she could not communicate with Adam on the same spiritual level. Thus, she too conspired to bring Adam down to her own level of dis-grace. Adam was tempted in that he had to make a choice: to continue to serve his God Whom he could not see, or to give in to the charms and urgings of another being of his own class. He did not wish to sacrifice the companionship of the `other' whom God had given him. He kept the companion and forfeited his companionship with his Creator. No sooner was the act of disobedience formulated in the will, then its consequences took effect: the fall from grace is always immediate. Once the act of will utters its fiat, the result follows.
Among the other trees was also the `tree of life.' Having chosen the `tree of the knowledge of good and evil,' both lost that supernatural life represented by the `tree of life.'
As if in mockery, God reproves them for their disobedience by suggesting that perhaps now they would try to eat from the `tree of life' - the source of supernatural life. They cannot because it is not within their power now to do so. We are reminded of this by St. John in the Apocalypse where he warns and encourages the different churches to remain faithful to Our Lord because this is the condition for eating from the tree of life: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: Him who overcomes I will permit to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God." Apoc.2, 7).
We encounter the symbolic `tree of life' again in the 22 chapter of the Apocalypse, verse 2: "In the midst of the city street, on both sides of the river, was the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits, yielding its fruit according to each month, and the leaves for the healing of the nations." (Ibid. 2,2).
Then, near the end of the Apocalypse, St. John writes down the words he hears: "And he said to me, `Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book; for the time is at hand. He who does wrong, let him do wrong still; and he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he who is just, let him be just still; and he who is holy, let him be hallowed still. Behold, I come quickly! And my reward is with me, to render to each one according to his works. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end!'
Blessed are they who wash their robes that they may have the right to the tree of life, and that by the gates they may enter into the city. Outside are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicators, and the murderers, and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood." (Ibid.22,10-15).
The concluding pages of the Apocalypse are essentially tied in with all that has gone before: "I, Jesus, sent my angel to testify to you these things concerning the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star."
And the Spirit and the bride say: "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come; and he who wishes, let him receive the water of life freely. I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book. If anyone shall add to them, God will add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if anyone shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his portion from the tree of life, and from the holy city, and from the things that are written in this book.
He who testifies to these things says, `It is true, I come quickly!' Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all. Amen."
(Ibid. 22, 16-21).
All of human history is sandwiched within the pages of the First and Last Books of the Bible. Of the Bible, it must be added from which nothing has been taken away nor added. That Bible can only be the Bible recognized as the inspired word of God by the Roman Catholic Church.
All this has been written for the purpose of setting in perspective the importance of the physical buildings we generally call `churches.'
Having failed in their initial offering of the sacrifice of their will to be in loving conformity with the will of God, the first parents of the human race have left us a terrible inheritance. They were unable to reach out and partake of the `tree of life' since they disobeyed the command and did not heed the warning of the Creator.
It is evident that Adam made reparation for his disobedience and offered sacrifice to God. Now, however, the sacrifice was more difficult to make because all of nature rebelled against him as he rebelled against the Lord of nature, God.
What happened to the Garden of Eden? We are told in the Book of Genesis that God "drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the Cherubim, and the flaming sword, which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life."
The first two sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, serve as a lesson of the two kinds of religion that exist in the world: the man-centered, false religion (s) and the God-centered, true religion. The first is that exemplified in the attitude and actions of Cain; the latter, the honorable and rewarding attitude and actions of Abel.
What made Abel's offering acceptable to God and why did God reject the offering of Cain? Like all religions, both Cain and Abel offered worship to God.
No where do we find a woman offering sacrifice to God. The only place where this is seen is in the false religions where women are false virgins, sorceresses and priestesses. Wherever is found a woman officiating in a temple, there we always find an inversion of God's established order.
After God punished mankind with the flood, the only survivors were eight people: Noe, his wife, his three sons - Sem, Cham and Japheth - and their wives. Upon leaving the ark at God's command, "Noe built an altar to the Lord; he took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered holocausts on the altar." Certainly, there are many anthropomorphic expressions in the Bible such as here, where it is related "When the Lord smelled the sweet odor he said to himself, `I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth; I will never again destroy every living creature, as I have done. As long as the earth shall last, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." (Gen.8, 20-22). There is no reason to believe that the smell of burning flesh was `sweet' in the time of Noe as compared to that same smell today. What is meant here is the attitude of reverent obedience to God owed by every man.
God commanded Moses to make a sanctuary: "They shall make a sanctuary for me, that I may dwell in their midst. This dwelling and all its furnishings you shall made exactly according to the pattern that I will now show you."
Moses is commanded: "From among the Israelites have your brother Aaron, together with his sons Nadab, Abiu, Eleazar and Ithamar, brought to you, that they may be my priests."
The priest is set apart for the service of God and therefore must wear distinctive vestments. What are the vestments of these priests? Not unlike the Apostles who received the fullness of the priesthood as bishops, the first priests of the Old Testament also were elevated to the highest rank. This is the reason why the vestments described here resemble very much the vestments (garb) worn by Bishops of the Catholic Church. This should surprise no one who knows that the Catholic Church is the continuation of the one, true, community of the faithful from the Old Testament. Christianity did not come from Judaism because Judaism never had any priesthood.
The only priests that were found when Judaism came to be - during the Babylonian captivity - were rebel priests who embraced the errors of Babylonian paganism through their intermarriage with the pagan women.
These Levitical priests, insofar as they were genuine descendants of the Levitical priesthood might be compared to the priests and high priests of the heretical and schismatic sects that have broken away from the one Church in later times. We find this same phenomenon today in those who have stolen holy orders by one or the other ruse. These are the `acephalous' priests and bishops who owe obedience to no one and to nothing. Necessarily, therefore, they choose heresy and schism to justify their unfortunate folly.
The ceremony of consecrating a Roman Catholic Bishop is very similar to the ceremony used by Moses in consecrating Aaron and his sons.
There are things in the execution of sacred services which may not be given to laymen because they are sacred. And only the ordained priest may use them or touch them.
Even in the Old Testament the altar was something special and sacred. Seven days were required to ordain a priest and seven
were needed to consecrate the altar. And, only after all this "the altar will be most sacred, and whatever touches it will become sacred." (Exodus 29, 37).
When Solomon finished the house of the Lord, the Lord appeared to him by night and said: "I have heard thy prayer, and I have chosen this place to myself for a house of sacrifice. If I shut up heaven, and there fall no rain, or if I give orders, and command the locust to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people, and my people, upon whom my name is called, being converted, shall make supplication to me, and seek out my face, and do penance for their most wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins and will heal their land. My eyes also shall be open, and my ears attentive to the prayer of him that shall pray in this place. For I have chosen, and have sanctified this place, that my name may be there forever, and my eyes and my heart may remain there perpetually."
That holy place is today found in the holy places of the Roman Catholic Church where alone the Real Presence is to be found.
The Lord speaks as only He can do. He promises things that will be perpetual as far as He is concerned. They are nevertheless conditioned upon man's reaction to these promises and the conditions surrounding them.
The Lord warns after He had tenderly expressed His desire to be with our ancestors perpetually:
"And as for thee, if thou walk before me, as David thy father walked, and do according to all that I have commanded thee, and keep my justices and my judgments, I will raise up the throne of thy kingdom, as I promised to David thy father, saying: There shall not fail thee a man of they stock to be ruler in Israel. But if you turn away, and forsake my justices and my commandments which I have set before you, and shall go and serve strange gods, and adore them, I will pluck you up by the root out of my land which I have given you; and this house which I have sanctified to my name, I will cast away from before my face, and will make it a byword and an example among all nations. And this house shall be for a proverb to all that pass by, and they shall be astonished and say: Why hath the Lord done thus to this land, and to this house? And they shall answer: Because they forsook the Lord the God of their fathers, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on strange gods, and adored them, and worshipped them: therefore all these evils are come upon them." (2 Paralipomenon 7, 12-22).
Our ancestors worshipped at the true temple all through the ages. They worshipped the one, true God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They worshipped the God Who sent the prophets to rebuke, admonish and exhort to abandon the terrible sins they were guilty of. They listened to the prophets and awaited with eagerness the coming of that Savior Who was to be their King, their Sanctifier and their Teacher. They worshipped in the temples and offered sacrifice to the true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The temple was the house of God even in the time of Jesus. It had been desecrated by unfaithful priests and laymen who were turning it into a means of material gain. When Our Lord taught in the temple, everyone was amazed at His wisdom. Mary and Joseph had observed all the duties of good Catholics by attending the temple on the Sabbath. The Levitical priests offered the traditional symbolic sacrifices - using animals instead of human beings.
They had learned their lesson in Babylon when they sacrificed their own children to the false god Baal and to the pagan god Astaroth. The prophet Isaias inveighed against the fallen away Catholics of that time; he cried out against infanticide as we today cry out against foeticide. Great punishments were needed to awaken the people from that demonic trance.
The faithful Israelites suffered much during their captivity among the pagans. Eventually, they were freed of their oppressive captives. Some of the Israelites, particularly those who had been taken into Babylon (present day Iraq) in captivity, returned to Palestine.
Those who returned were a mixture of orthodox and heretical Old Testament Catholics. The former were the priests and high priests. They and the faithful returned to Palestine and worked to restore the temple. The latter comprised the new `modernist' mixture of part Old Testament Catholicism and Babylonian paganism. These were the new `rabbis' and the laymen who intruded themselves into the Church. They were the `scribes.'
Most people have been led into confusion in this matter by the adherents of the Synagogues who masquerade even to this day as the original `Judeans' much as Protestants masquerade as `Christians.'
The Synagogue should not be confused with the temple, as if they were one and the same thing. This would be like saying that Baptists are the same as Roman Catholics. Jesus went to the temple both to pray and to teach. If He went to any synagogue, it was only to convert the people to the true temple of which He was the rightful object of worship because He was the awaited Messiah.
At the time of Our Lord and the Apostles, synagogues were established throughout Palestine. Jerusalem alone had several hundred shortly before its destruction by Titus. Others were to be found at Capharnaum, Nazareth, Caesarea, Tiberias, Dora, Sepphoris, and other locations.
The title `rabbi' (My master) is not the same as `priest.' In the Far East, the title of respect for teachers is similar: son saeng nim: `most honorable teacher.' St. John the Baptist was called `rabbi' by his disciples. Likewise, Our Lord was addressed in this way by His disciples. Our Lord did not wish His Apostles or disciples to accept the title `rabbi' for themselves because He alone was their `Master and Lord.' They, on the other hand were to be spiritual brothers to one another.
The temple, then, has always been looked upon by Catholics as the house of God. Little by little, this idea was lost as persecution forced the true Israelites to quit the temple where the priests and high priests had apostatized from the true faith and were now competing with the laicized sect that began with time to call itself `Judaism.'
Catholics in the Old Testament and in the New Testament never gave themselves any specific name. To themselves, they were merely `true believers.' Labels became necessary when heretics sought to entice true believers to themselves under the guise of being `orthodox' or more holy than the true Church.
Jesus did not call His disciples `Christians.' It was the pagans of Antioch who gave them that label and it has been used ever since. The same is true of the adjective `Roman' added to the word `Catholic.' This was the invention of those who hated our ancestors during the English rebellion against the Church by King Henry VIII and liberal churchmen. They insisted on claiming to be `Catholics' while rejecting most of the teachings of the Church. Because they could only do this by rejecting the legitimate successor of St. Peter, they derided true Catholics by calling them either `papists' or `Romans.' Thus, our enemies helped us define and distinguish ourselves from them by giving us the name `Roman Catholic.'
This is only mentioned to help understand the important and essential difference between the temple and the synagogue.
Our ancestors in the true faith, whether Judean or other Israelite, worshipped in the temple not in the synagogue.
Had the high priests accepted the clear proof that Jesus was the true Messiah, we would never have been forced out of the temple. Mary and Joseph and all their relatives frequented the temple. The Apostles and all the first `Christians' frequented the temple. Even after they believed in Jesus and followed Him, they still went to the temple. After the ascension of Our Lord, the Apostles tried to go to the temple but were not allowed entry. For this reason they stood outside the temple and preached Jesus Crucified to the people entering and leaving the temple. This, of course, grated on Levitical nerves. It did not take long before the Apostles and those who believed their preaching and were baptized had no place to gather for worship. Besides this, they began to worship on the first day of the week, called the Lord's Day because He resurrected on Sunday. They therefore gathered in private homes. Much like true Catholics today are forced out of their churches and must resort to private homes, motels and whatever else Providence might provide so that they might offer or attend the true Sacrifice of the Mass, that sublime mystery of our faith.
The New Testament Israelite and the converts from other nations had no proper place to worship. The hatred of the temple and the synagogue both made it almost impossible to worship in peace. All joined forces against this `mini-sect' of stubborn Israelites and others who insisted that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the King of Israel, the Prince of Peace promised by God.
Corrupted temple, pagan temple and synagogue united to crush these `Christians.' Saul of Tarsus was given a permit from the Sanhedrin to seek out and bring back in chains any recalcitrant Christian Israelites. They were brought by physical force before the Sanhedrin and condemned to various punishments if they refused to reject their faith.
This state of affairs continued for over two hundred years. It was with the Edict of Milan that the Emperor Constantine made Christianity one of the recognized religions. This was in 313 AD.
On the morrow of the last persecution, the archbasilica of Our Holy Savior was built. The palace of the Laterani, on the Caelian Hill, belonged to Constantine's wife, Fausta. After his conversion, the Emperor gave it to the Pope as his private residence and founded in it the church of the Lateran which became the mother and mistress of all the churches of Rome and the world. It was dedicated to Christ our Savior by Pope St. Sylvester on November 9, 324. In the twelfth century it was given as its second title St. John the Baptist whose name was also that of the ancient baptistery connected with the church; hence the present name of the basilica, St. John Lateran. The first basilica having been destroyed, was rebuilt in the tenth century by Sergius III and consecrated by Bendict XIII in 1726.
As the mother church, the first true temple since profanation of the temple in Jerusalem by the Babylonian sect and its destruction, the church of Our Holy Savior and the palace of the Lateran were the scene of Roman councils at which many bishops were present at certain periods. Five great ecumenical councils have also been held there. On the most solemn days of the liturgical year the station was at St. John Lateran. There sacred orders were conferred and the Easter baptisms. The residence of the Popes there and the whole rhythm of Christian life made it the very center of Christianity for a long time.
What is special of the church, or temple? In the first place, God had taken up residence in that edifice and in the fullest sense of the word, it has become the House of God
We already know that God is everywhere - He is omnipresent. All of creation exists because of God's continuous fiat. His thought and will keep all created reality in existence. Therefore, it is true that it is possible to pray to God everywhere and at any time. A person can pray anywhere, because God can be reached from anywhere.
One day, while sitting by Jacob's well in the town of Sichar in Samaria, Our Lord was asked by a Samaritan woman where must one worship God. "Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you say that at Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship," she said to Him. Jesus answered her: "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Judeans. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeks such to worship him. God is spirit, and they who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4, 19-24).
Our Lord was telling this Samaritan woman that those who were worshipping on the mountain in Samaria and those who were worshipping in the temple in Jerusalem were performing nothing more than their own ceremonies to a God from Whom they had all departed in spirit and in truth.
Previous to this incident in Samaria, Jesus had cleansed the temple. St. John records the event as follows:
"Now the Passover of the Judeans was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. And he found in the temple men selling oxen, sheep and doves, and money-changers at their tables. And making a kind of whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, also the sheep and oxen and he poured out the money of the changers and overturned the tables. An to them who selling the doves he said, ` Take these things away, and do not make the house of my Father a house of business.' And his disciples remembered that it is written, The zeal for thy house has eaten me up."(John 2,13-17).
St. Luke uses stronger language: He calls these merchants `murderers' - "My Father's house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers."
It is not allowed to do business in the house of God because it is a house of prayer.
Business and prayer are mutually exclusive acts of human existence. Prayer draws our attention to the beyond, to the Lord, to His divine Providence. Prayer stirs within us a trust in God. It places us in His care. During prayer, we go out of ourselves so that we might live dependent upon our Creator.
Commerce on the other hand directs our attention to this present reality. It puts in the center of our attention things; it inspires trust in our selves, our abilities, our shrewdness. As much as prayer makes a man humble and modest, to that same extent commerce makes a man proud and even shameless.
To engage in commerce in the temple means bringing into it all those worldly elements, thereby making the temple `a den of robbers.'
Robbers take what they want by force as opposed to the thief who takes what he wants under cover of stealth and darkness. The robber does not shrink from killing his victim; the thief seldom resorts to violence.
The merchants, according to the Apocalypse, not only trade in gold and silver, wine and oil, flour, wheat and livestock, etc., but they also deal in human souls. (Apoc.18,24).
The center of their commerce is that worldly city (St. Augustine's `city of this world' as opposed to the City of God) which is
with the blood of all the world: "And in her was found blood of prophets and of saints, of all who have been slain upon the earth." (Ibid.18,24).
This world of commerce represented by the buyers and sellers in the temple is aptly called the `den of murders and robbers' because this is its very essence
of business. As such, this essence is opposed to the essence of the temple which is to gather the people yearning for the beyond through prayers and offerings. The essence of business is to be taken up with all the cares of this world and the struggle for existence.
The first Christians prayed and offered their sacrifices wherever they could safely gather. They were painfully aware that they could pray anywhere. Nevertheless, as soon as they gained their freedom to practice their religion in public, they immediately began building churches. They did this, not because they thought their prayers were somehow deficient in value, but because they felt the church in the Christian's existence played such a vital role which nothing else could take its place.
The church is a constitutive element of Christian existence to the point that without it man can easily go astray - even in his prayers. This attitude of the early Christians shows that the aspect of prayer is only one element involved in the need for a church. There is still something more fundamental.
The true purpose of the church as an edifice has been lost in our times for the most part. Today's Catholic looks at the church from a utilitarian point of view: everything is designed more for the comfort of the people than for the primary purpose for which the structure should be designed. This also explains the ridiculous designs one sees today. Churches today are built only where there is a practical need.
A church is built to accommodate a larger number of people. Thus, when the number of people spills out beyond the confines of whatever edifice has been used as a church, another church is built, either bigger or in a better location. Whatever the case may be, it is always a practical, functional need that determines place and size.
In the days of faith, these considerations were of secondary importance. In the days of faith, a church was built not for man.
We can only understand the essence of a `church' when we remember that it is THE HOUSE OF GOD.
A house of prayer is not the same thing as the house of God.
An edifice only becomes a church when it is destined not only as a place of prayer for man, but as a place where God lives.
That the church is essentially the House of God is shown by Christ's chasing out of the temple the different merchants. In chasing them out, He gave His reason: "Do not make of my Father's house a house of business." (John 2, 16).
It is not permitted to do business in the church because it is a house of prayer. But, it is a house of prayer because it is the House of the heavenly Father.
The Lord resides in the temple and this is why man must experience the reality that he is standing in the presence of the Almighty. And, where man meets God, there the place of that meeting becomes such that nothing that is not consecrated to God's service may touch that which is dedicated to Him.
When Moses saw the burning bush which was not consumed by fire he said to himself: "I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned." (Exodus 3,3). But when he approached the flaming bush, he heard a voice: "Moses! Moses!" He answered: "Here I am." God said, "Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." (Ibid. 4-5).
Moses had been led by curiosity, that is, a worldly motive, and for this reason he was not allowed to enter into this place sanctified by the vision of God's presence. Moses had to take off his sandals, that is, he had to leave outside this holy place everything that was not part of his nature. Man can only appear in the presence of God as he is, without being covered with anything that is foreign to his nature. Everything that separates man from the Lord, everything that is set apart for God but for the world, like a wall separating man from God - all this had to be left outside this sanctified place.
If the church is the Father's House, then man must feel and act differently than he would in man's house. He must
at the door everything that is worldly because he is not the master of this House. An attitude of prayer is the only thing that man can bring with him as he enters the church.
This is why Our Lord so severely expelled the merchants from the temple in Jerusalem. The House of God becomes its visible expression as the House of Prayer.
It may be asked: How does this happen? How does an edifice become the House of God, and thereby a worthy `House of Prayer'? Is this true or is it just some king of illusion? Did not St. Paul say to the Greeks at the Aeropagus that "God, who made the world and all that is in it, since he is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples built by hands; neither is he served by human hands as though he wee in need of anything, since it is he who gives to all men life and breath and all things."?
How, then, can it be said that an edifice becomes the `house of God' if God does not dwell there?
Meaningful light on this question is thrown by the example of King David. King David, from whom Jesus Christ is descended in the flesh, was determined to build God a House. God's answer to this proposal is interesting.
After having taken care of his enemies and now being able to live peacefully, David once said to the prophet Nathan: "Dost thou see that I dwell in a house of cedar, and the ark of God is lodged within skins?" (2 Kings 7, 2).
David wanted to say by this that it was not fitting that man's living abode is far more lavish than the House of God; that the Lord should likewise live in a house worthy of His greatness and honor.
But God spoke through the prophet Nathan and said: "Thus saith the Lord: Shalt thou build me a house to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in a house from the day that I brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt even to this day, but have walked in a tabernacle, and in a tent. In all the places that I have gone through with all the children of Israel, did ever I speak a word to anyone of the tribes of Israel whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying: Why have you not built me a house of cedar?" (Ibid. 7,6-7).
The Lord's answer is very significant. It reveals two things. On the one hand, God clearly says that He does not require that man should build Him a house. The Lord points out that He is content to abide in tents and motels. This is why He does not complain to David for David's sumptuous palace made of cedar, while the Ark of the Covenant is kept in a tent made of animal skins. God did not want a permanent dwelling because the children of Israel had not yet entered the promised land. God wanted to share with the children of Israel all their joys and sorrows; He wanted to be accessible to all of them.
God even told David that he would not build Him a house. On the contrary, God told David that He would build a house for him in the sense of a dynasty. This, of course, was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the last head of the Davidic dynasty. With the death of Jesus Christ, the House of David appeared to cease its existence. But, with His resurrection, the House of David endures for all eternity through Jesus Christ. The House of David continues, not in the natural sense as other dynasties, but in the supernatural sense that Jesus Christ continues His existence on earth, first, through His Mystical Body, the Roman Catholic Church, and, secondly, through the reign of a legitimate successor of St. Peter, who himself was the Vicar of Jesus Christ.
The wandering tribes of Israel found their promised land in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ: The Roman Catholic Church is the kingdom of God on earth and, therefore, the people of Israel ended their journey. For this reason, the House of God to be built and where God actually dwells in His Three Persons through the Mystical and Real Presence of the Second Person, Jesus Christ, is the church where Jesus Christ resides in the Most Holy Sacrament.
The Blessed Sacrament is that blessed sign of God's real presence as opposed to the symbolic presence in the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was merely a symbol of God's presence - a presence that merely pointed the perfect accomplishment of God's plan: The presence among His intelligent creatures in the future.
Since the Incarnation and the institution of the Real Presence to the present day, God is really present among His people.
Our churches are the objective space where the great mystery of God's personal presence is realized.
For this reason, the churches of the Roman Catholic Church are not merely specified places of prayer: They are in the fullest possible sense of the term The House of God.
Significantly, then, the Lord did not reject the idea of His house when He told David that he would not build it. Nor was the temple built by Solomon the definitive house of God. Because it was not definitive, God allowed this symbol of His house to be destroyed on various occasions. But now that the kingdom has come, now that the pilgrimage of the children of Israel is over, now that the Real Presence of God among His people is a fact, no amount of destruction can destroy His Presence.
We may learn further of the importance of the church which has today suffered great humiliation as the House of God by thoughtfully reading the Mass for the dedication of a church. The sentiments expressed in that Mass.
"Terrible is this place: it is the house of God, and the gate of heaven; it shall be called the court of God" (Gen.18,17; Ps. 83, 2-3).
"Holiness becometh Thy house, O Lord, unto length of days" (Ps.92,5).
"This is the house of the Lord, strongly built, well founded upon a firm rock."
Only in the true house of God do we find the perpetual Sacrifice; from all others, it has been taken away.
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