28 October 2008

Called to be a Living Temple of God

There is an online conversation about the new Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, and it falls about the way one might expect: Traditionalists hate it, call it Protestant, non-Catholic, castigate it for lacking Catholic symbolism, gothic sensibilities, altar rails, bell towers, etc ad infinitum et ad nauseam. This morning one person (in a more generous comment) called it "nice but plain" and it got me to thinking about what is actually missing from this Cathedral in the pictures these folks are looking at (because almost none of them have actually SEEN the new Cathedral first hand). With the help of today's readings I got a good kick in the pants (it's a jeans and work tunic kind of day!!) re what is the crucial element that Cathedral itself calls for and needs so clearly.

It was an obvious answer. What is missing is the ASSEMBLY, the coming together of the "called ones" who will make up the living stones of the living Temple. Because when the assembly is present, the Cathedral pulses with a life which is palpable; it is what it is meant to be at these times. Now don't get me wrong. The Cathedral is beautiful in any case. Its symbolism is rich and clear and more traditional or truly Catholic one could not get. It is alive with light and living water (the image of the Christ of majesty is created second by second by the light that enters the cathedral through minute holes, and the baptismal font has the water contantly moving), and of course, there is also the reserved Eucharist. But this cathedral is not a museum; it is a worship space, and despite its inherent beauty and symbolism, it is built so that it is really only complete and completely alive when it is filled with worshipping Christians. The Cathedral of Christ the Light is wonderful, but it, in its own way, steps back and serves the more important reality: the Temple of living stones which are Christ "brought to full stature" as Paul's letter to the Ephesians puts the matter.

For some time the term "vocation" was something the church, at least in practice, associated solely with religious and clergy. We all remember this and may see signs of it today. In fact, bits of this way of thinking and viewing things may still reside in our own hearts and prevent us from taking our lives as seriously as God does (and as he desires we do as well!). To "have a vocation" meant to be called to religious or priestly life. Nothing else was honored with the term "vocation" --- not marriage, not single life. Vocations were understood as wonderful things, to be highly esteemed, but only a relative few were thus called by God. The result was inevitable: those NOT called to religious life or priesthood came to see their own lives as less important or significant in God's eyes. They were taught that religious life is a "higher vocation" (a misunderstanding of the idea of relative "states of perfection") and naturally, they heard in their heart of hearts that their own vocation (if they could even apply that word effectively!) was "lower" or second class.

Today's readings cut the heart out of such a practice and undergird the changes that were achieved at Vatican II in this regard. Each of us is called by NAME to be --- that is, simply to be is a response to a call of God --- and more, each of us is called to be part of the very inner life of God --- called to take a place within his very life even as we allow him to reside more and more fully within us and fill our own lives with being and light. It does not matter whether we are religious, hermits, priests, or laity; each of us is called to be this living temple of God and living stones in the larger Temple which is the People of God. Awareness of this tremendous dignity and challenge is at the root of all truly prayerful and faithful living. It leaves no room for thinking of oneself or one's vocation as second class --- nor for thinking that one's vocation is "higher" than another's.

As the first reading from Ephesians affirms: "You are no longer strangers or sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God. . .[through Christ you are being built into a structure which] is held together and grows into a Temple sacred in the Lord; in Him you are also being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."

Imagine being a temple of the Spirit! The place where the Holy Spirit dwells in our world! Imagine really being people of prayer, not because we undertake an activity called prayer once or even several times a day, but because the Word speaks and the Spirit breathes in us in a way which MAKES us God's own prayers --- for remember, prayer is not what we do, but what God does in us. If it sounds astounding, it should, and yet, it is our everyday vocation, our call to be genuinely human, to be a dialogue between this world and God --- for that is what authentic humanity really is. Religious or eremitical life, priesthood or laity, marriage, single life, or consecrated virginity are all simply paths to this universal vocation. All of this is what Paul is referring to when he speaks of us as living stones or temples of the Holy Spirit. So imagine saying this living stone, this temple of the Holy Spirit is a first class stone, and this one is second class! Doesn't really work, does it?

The new Cathedral of Christ the Light, like any cathedral is the diocesan mother church, the seat of the Bishop. But to be complete, to be perfected in its structure and purpose it must be filled with praying people, people who are and are becoming PRAYER -- living stones in a living Temple with Christ as the capstone. If this new cathedral's symbolism of mediating the light and reality of the risen Christ between heaven and earth is to really be SYMBOLIC (which is to be more than a sign, afterall!) it must be filled with people who have themselves become dialogues between this world and God and who come together to celebrate the fact and, especially, the God who makes it continually possible. So, if the Cathedral of Christ the Light is "nice but plain" without its assembly of living stones, then that is as it should be. For, beautiful as the new cathedral is, it is a vehicle for something even more awesome --- the vocation of Christians, both individually and corporately, to realize their call to be the dwelling place of God and to be taken up into his own life at the same time, the vocation to be living stones in a Temple which will outlast (and outclass!) ANY Cathedral.