Opening the Word: This Lent, let Christ use you to build the temple


In one week, the revelries of Fat Tuesday, the celebrations of Carnival, the donuts and king cakes and pancakes will be a memory. The time for conversion, for fasting and prayer and almsgiving will have begun.

To what end do we take up these practices? Do we fast because it’s healthy — a periodic way to control our weight? Do we pray in order to prove each year that we can go to daily Mass? Do we give a bit of alms because it’s nice to have something to offer up on Holy Thursday? Do we give up social media because it’s pleasant to take a break from the endless images and words that distract us from the kingdom (plus, all our friends are doing it)?

None of these reasons, even a bit of weight loss, are necessarily evil. They’re practices that will lead the Christian to a bit of holiness. They focus us on God, moving us away from the excesses that may hinder us from virtue.

But God may have something more in store for us. God is proposing a construction project — a building of a temple of holiness through the restoration of each Christian.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we are temples of God. Through this image, Paul is making a claim about Christian identity. The Temple in Jerusalem is the place of God’s dwelling on earth. The Church is a temple, the dwelling place of the Spirit. Each baptized Christian is a stone in this temple, the presence of God made available to men and women.

If we are to be the temple of God, the presence of the Spirit, we must give up practices of self-deception, chasing the wisdom of the world rather than the foolishness of God. We must give ourselves over entirely to the stonemason, Jesus Christ, who comes to smooth out rough edges, placing us in communion with every member of the Church.

The fasting, almsgiving and prayer that we take up each Lent is God’s construction project upon us, restoring us to our splendor as living stones in the temple of the Church.

Before we take up practices each Lent, we need to recognize where our love of self, our love of the wisdom of this world, has fractured our communion with God and neighbor. Those areas in our lives where we’re crumbling as stones in the temple of God.

Think today about Jesus’ words in Matthew we hear on this Sunday before Lent. Do we keep in our hearts a desire for revenge, to enact violence against the one who has offended us? Do we have enemies in our lives, those whom we have excluded from the horizon of our love?

Each word in the Gospels is an opportunity for us to come to self-knowledge, knowledge of our own fragility as living stones. Do we give food and drink to the thirsty? Do we welcome the stranger as Christ? Are our parishes bastions of wealth and prestige instead of spaces of self-emptying love, of friendship with the poor and lonely?

Lent, in this sense, is a time of honest discernment. The foolish stonemason looks at a crumbling stone and says, “It will likely be OK.” It is the wise builder who is honest, who sees the defects and does something about it.

We are broken and crumbling stones. Not just me, not just you, but the whole Church. In the coming weeks, the stonemason, with his typical kindness and mercifulness, will begin to reconstruct this dusty and desolate temple.

Will we let him get to work?

February 23, 2020 — Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lv 19:1-2, 17-18
Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Cor 3:16-23
Mt 5:38-48


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