A feast day to celebrate a church built in Rome in the fourth century can seem very much removed from our lives. Each of the readings refers to a different temple, specific to a unique group of ancestors in our history, all many years before the building honoured by this feast day. And all three readings are trying to teach us about the place where God dwells.
In the first reading Ezekiel is describing a vision given to him by God, where water flows through a temple to join up with a dead sea, which results in a new body of fresh water, bringing new life to all the plants and animals fed by it. The contemporary lesson for us is that our churches, like the ancient Israelite temples, are expressions of the living God, meant for the whole of the world. Our churches are supposed to be places that have a positive and life-giving impact in our neighbourhoods and communities.
The second reading builds on this one, implicating us in this vision. It’s not just about a building that allows water to flow through and be purified; we are the temple that is the church. Our very bodies, taken on by Christ himself, become a living vessel of God’s saving work. Our buildings and our bodies are the church. You and I are called to be the water that quenches the thirst of our world.
As if that weren’t overwhelming enough, Jesus deepens our appreciation of the mystery when he overturns the tables set up as a marketplace in the temple. He is angry with the way his father’s house has been misunderstood. God does not sell grace; he is grace. When the people ask for a sign, Jesus invites them to destroy the temple and he would raise it in three days. Confusion arises because Jesus is talking about his body and the people are talking about the building. Salvation is not won by the church but is rather offered through it, on the foundation of the person — the body and blood — of Jesus Christ.
These are all beautiful ideas, sacred articulations, mysteries of our liturgies and also our lives. Often we leave these mysteries in the liturgy, however, and fail to see them at work outside of the church and in our lives and bodies.
In our home, we have a weeks-old baby girl, a brand new gift and expression of the life God gives to us. Carrying her inside me for most of the last year, it’s hard to miss the way my body is a temple. I become a tabernacle carrying a real presence. I slow my life down, attentive to the rhythms of another person and her needs. Slowly and in God’s time, she grew inside the temple to prepare for being sent out — to change the world.
I remember bringing my first baby home from the hospital, and the whole world looked different. It was jarring to be in traffic with other cars, whose drivers and passengers were totally unaware that the world had changed forever. Already in our house this newest baby is changing our world. She has made her sister a big sister again, her brother a big brother for the first time. She interrupts our sleeping, calms to our touch, watches as we live and move and have our being.
She has been the reason for guests to stop by, for neighbours to visit, for strangers to stop us in the grocery store. She has more power than the rest of our family combined to call attention to the weak and the needy. She smells like new baby and chrism oil, tempting us to stop doing and just smell her.
The oil we use at baptism is the same oil used to anoint a new church. When the Cathedral of the Holy Family was blessed in Saskatoon in 2012, four bishops rolled up the sleeves on their vestments and rubbed oil onto the altar with the joy of children making a mess in a sandbox. Any Sunday there is a baptism, I look around the church and see that same joy on the faces of parents and parishioners alike: this is the church, the altar and these babies, who become aged together.
The miracle of the church is that the building begets baptized people who build buildings and nurture people and feed the hungry. Through every effort of our lives, God is pouring grace into the church and through it, wherever people need him.
The work we are doing with the whole of our lives is the work of the church, the saving work of Jesus Christ, who came to make our burdens light and to resurrect the dying in days. Our practice of liturgy in the church and our practice of life is intended to change the world.
The miracle of birth, still ringing in my body and in my baby, is that the temple gives birth to another temple. I am still figuring out how to follow Jesus, so that my worship and my daily work will be a gift of life for others. I have no idea what God will ask of this beautiful little girl. But I know that she has been anointed with the oil of the church and that loving her well will be all she needs to be water for the thirsty that God wants to touch through her.
LPerrault is the director of Pastoral Services for the Diocese of Saskatoon. She is co-author of How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating. She and her husband, Marc, are the parents of three young children.