When celebrating the dedication of a church, as we do today, the liturgy teaches us that the church building is an expression of a worshipping community, and that this worship must be in spirit and truth. In other words, the focus shifts from the external structure of the church to the shared inner life of the community, the living stones, and to the inner temple of our hearts.
Many teachers of prayer apply this symbolism of the house/temple to the inner life of each person. It is a strong theme in the Scriptures. Jesus implies it in several parables: for instance, the house built on sand vs. the house built on rock (Mt 7:24–27), or the house that has been swept clean but that is vulnerable to the return of seven worse demons (Lk 11:24–26). Paul speaks of the body as a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16–17), and prays in his letter to the Ephesians that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith (Eph 3:17). Then there is the image in the book of Revelation of Jesus knocking at the door (Rev 3:20) seeking access to our inner hearts. Tomorrow’s second reading from Peter: ‘Come to him, the living stone…and like living stones let yourselves be built into a spiritual house’. (1Pet 2:4)
From the monastic tradition – St Gregory the Great depicts Benedict as coming ‘home to himself’, to his inner house, living with himself and learning how to dwell with himself. He had to explore his inner thoughts, feelings, judgements in order to learn from his failure in Vico Varo, in order to mature. Saint Bernard reflects on this theme of the house/home/inner self in a sermon on the household at Bethany, seeing in the house of Lazarus, Martha, and Mary an image of the soul. Second Sermon on the Assumption – subtitled: ‘How the spiritual house has to be swept and garnished for the reception of Christ’. Lazarus, the penitent, cleans the house through sorrow for sins. Martha, the active one, furnishes and orders the house by acquiring virtues. But it is Mary who, through quiet, contemplative awareness, fills the house. Such a house, Bernard says, the Lord gladly and frequently visits. St Teresa of Avila’s 7 mansions, shares her own experience on the development in prayer, and gives signs/indications of a deepening of relationship with the Lord who dwells within us as in a castle!
In the OT canticle (22) which we have on Mondays there is a line which says: ‘Wisdom has built her house set up her seven pillars’ Pr 9:1. What might be the seven pillars which builds us into a spiritual house, into a house where Wisdom dwells, into a house that the Lord gladly and frequently visits? What might be the seven pillars which uphold this inner house of the soul, or the house of the community where we worship in spirit and truth? And the seven pillars which maintain our church. Your seven pillars might be different to mine…be creative in naming the seven pillars!
- Consciousness/awareness: we are earthen vessels which hold this treasure. The temple/soul/community are places of God’s Presence. ‘Christ dwells in our hearts through faith’ ‘Make your home in me as I make mine in you’ Jn 1
- Reverence: toward persons/community/church. We must outdo one another in showing respect (RB 73) Lived on many levels – marks all our relationships/in choir/care of the monasteries goods…‘holiness marks your house, O Lord’…‘the Lord makes holy the place where he dwells’
- Purity of heart: to have that inner freedom which allows us to listen for the Holy Spirit and follow his inspirations. For the temple, cleanliness, order, uncluttered space….same for the inner soul and community space. Watch our thoughts and guard our hearts…don’t go up the chain of anger, anxiety, fear….Balance between good order and humble warm service
- Ongoing conversion: growth in self knowledge, growth in virtue, grow into the full stature of Christ
- Reflective spirit: recollection, living as though seeing the invisible, ceaseless prayer, discernment…seeking God…ready to do God’s will
‘Each day came forth from the hand of God, newly created and alive with opportunities…a series of moments…to be consecrated and offered back to God in total dedication to his will’ – Walter Chizeck
- Integrity/authenticity: in the church good quality materials, beauty; people of truth and integrity, not to do things for show but out of love, live what we profess
- Receptivity of grace: ‘let yourselves be built’ (1Peter). ‘O Lord my God, may your eyes be open night and day to watch over this house’ (1Kings)
In the reading we have at Vigils from St Bernard he says: ‘What a capacity this soul has… that it is found worthy not only to receive the divine presence, but to be able to make sufficient room! The soul must grow and expand that it may be roomy enough for God. Its width is its love. It is its virtue that increases…it grows to the full stature of Christ and becomes a holy temple in the Lord’. We can cooperate with the Great Architect to build a temple for God within ourselves and from the living stones of the community shape a place for Christ, a place where he can rest his head and proclaim his kingdom.
Mother Marie gave this Chapter Talk for the feast of the Dedication of Glencairn Abbey Church, 27th August, 2022