Nov 8, 2014

Sunday: Personal Space and sacred space


Ez 47:1-2, 8-9, 12

I Cor 3:9c-11, 16-17

Jn 2:13-22

Personal space, the distance we stand apart from each other comfortably, seems to vary from culture to culture.  If you’re Italian or Spanish for example standing close, arms flying in conversation, hands on one’s shoulders or literally “in your face” to emphasize a point may appear aggressive but is generally more cultural in style.  To see men kissing one another on the cheek in greeting is not unusual at all in such Mediterranean countries.

However, if you’re from Finland or Norway such nearby stand may be less likely.  We Eastern Europeans generally need our space but are not opposed to an embrace now and then so we’re somewhere in between. Our personal space also varies according to how well you know the person as a friend, family member or stranger.

Next time experiment with someone you know by seeing how close you can stand in front of each other before you become uncomfortable.  It might be surprising either way. We often treat our personal space as a sacred space. 

Today’s Feast is a good time for us to reflect on sacred space in the place where we worship side by side with our brothers and sisters. Our Church is a sacred home where we encounter the living Christ in Word and Sacrament; where we reverence one another as temples of the Holy Spirit when gathered as the Church the People of God.   

Today’s Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome likely raises a few eyebrows with Catholic people who expect the Sunday celebrations to be centered on Jesus rather than a Cathedral Basilica in Rome.  A kind of “so what” reaction may arise in the mind of some.

Historically the Lateran Basilica reaches back to the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century.  When he legitimized the Christian faith as the official religion of the Roman Empire, he gave many pagan properties to the Church and among them was this property.  It became the Cathedral Church of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) and symbolically the Mother Church of all Catholics because of the position of the local Bishop who is also the head of the Roman Church throughout the world as Pope.

It served as the meeting place between St. Francis of Assisi and his early followers who came to an audience with Pope Innocent III for his approval on Francis’ new order of life.  The Pope had dreamt of a poor man who would rebuild the Church and saw in Francis the man in his dream, thereby interpreting Francis new Order as God’s special choice.  It is among one of the four major Basilicas of Rome and is considered a property of the Vatican. 

Its rich history links us to our Holy Father the Pope and to Christ himself as Head of the Church and is among the sacred spaces of Rome. Sadly, however, I think our culture today with it increasing sense of independence and subjective moral choice has lost a sense of sacred space. And beyond physical space to the sacred person of a human being. While we would never worship a human person we are called to reverence each other.

In the familiar Gospel passage we see Jesus turning over the tables of the money-changers in the sacred space of the Temple of Jerusalem.  The exchange of Roman coins with their pagan images in the sacred space of the Temple and the gouging of the poor was an act of defilement.  Because worship is sacred space behavior, dress, and moral intention should reflect the honor of God. 

We logically think of our parish Churches.  Do we treat them as sacred space? Our Church halls are one thing and the interior of the Church is another.  When we enter the Church itself what about our behavior, our dress, our gestures, our whole demeanor reflects our sacred worship?  As a priest, I am not one who believes that the Church must be a silent tomb before the beginning of Mass. 

However, I do believe in restraint.  When we greet each other is it a loud, “Hey, how are you?” with a slap on the back or a continued conversation in the pews, loud enough for all to hear as people come in? In the sacred space where we encounter the living Christ, present also in our Tabernacle under the sign of the Eucharist, do we treat this sacred space like our front lawn, living rooms, or a restaurant? 

Our Church is significantly different than those places and demands a certain reverent restraint. You are not necessarily the only one in Church at the time and your brother or sister in Christ may appreciate some quiet time before Mass begins.

While weekend Mass is often a time to reconnect with parishioners you haven’t seen in a week, why not use the time before Mass begins to prepare for the liturgy?  Look over the readings and reflect on them. Prepare your mind and heart to settle down so that you can more reverently participate in the holy Mass.  All this takes some discipline of course – like showing up more than 30 seconds before Mass begins.

Finally, Jesus also not only “cleanses” the Temple and calls for his Father’s house to be respected and reverenced but likewise speaks of his personal space – his body as a Temple. “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”

Clear to us what he refers to on this side of the resurrection, the “temple of his Body” as John states but to those who heard him say this for the first time it caused confusion.  “Maybe he’s deluded” they might have wondered since the Temple was still under construction after 46 years. 

Jesus signifies that he is the new Temple of the Lord which we interpret as the Church, the Body of Christ.  No longer would only one designated building or place on earth be seen as the place where true worship is offered.  Now, Christ himself can be found not only in Word and Sacrament in that unique way but also in the heart and soul of every believer throughout the earth.  To treat one another with reverence and respect; with dignity and holiness is to honor God and thereby to that human personal sacred space.

This Sunday as you worship in the sacred space of the Church, surrounded by the sacred space of fellow parishioners, can we check our level of respect and reverence? 

In our second reading to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds us: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? . . . for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.” Sacred space and personal sacred space - God lives in both.