One of the quietest and most moving places on earth is the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. It is the remnant, all that remains, of the Temple of Jerusalem built by Herod the Great about 20 years before Christ, and then destroyed by the Romans around 70 AD. The Temple of course was where Jesus was presented as an infant by Joseph and Mary. It is where Jesus taught the teachers, and where he was found after being lost for 3 days. It is also the sight of the gospel for the third Sunday of Lent. Jesus was annoyed at what had become of this most holy place.
When I was a kid I was never allowed to speak in church—ever. It was the quietest place in town. I miss that and I still feel uneasy talking unnecessarily in church. Sometimes I do, but in the back of my mind is the reminder that perhaps I shouldn’t be. There is something different about Catholic Churches. What is different is God’s real and abiding presence; independent of whether one knows it, believes it, or even likes it. The Divine Presence is not dependent upon my consent or even my understanding. God is simply there in that tabernacle in every Catholic Church and chapel throughout the world.
In all Catholic Churches there is a large candle near the tabernacle called the Sanctuary Lamp. It beckons us in the dark, as a lighthouse beckons a ship that is lost. “I’m over here!” This is no mere auditorium, gathering space, theater or concert hall. It is literally where God abides. And so, we ask: How do I act in His presence? Do I visit Him throughout the week? Do I spend some time with Him? Very often throughout the day I see people stop in to spend some quiet time with the Lord. Around our tabernacle are a few rows of seats. I urge you to use them. Come right up there and spend some silent time with the Lord. He’d like to see you. Pope Benedict XVI wrote “Silence excavates and carves out an interior space in our inmost depths so that God might abide there.” The silent time we spend digs out a place in us so that God might live there. Pretty amazing!
This past week I brought the 7th and 8th grade Religious Education Children along with a few of their parents to a Holy Hour in the Church in the evening. I spent a little time explaining to them about spending quite time in God’s holy presence. I reminded them that God speaks to us in quiet. I asked them to sit anywhere they wished in the church, but to sit quietly by themselves. I knew this could end in disaster as I waited for all the phones to start chirping around the church. The amazing thing is that there was absolute silence for a long time throughout the church. I was truly amazed that the children became lost in the holy silence, since most humans are uncomfortable in silence; perhaps they had never experience silence before. Silence is where God lives.
In the gospel for this third Sunday of Lent Jesus becomes indignant at those who ignored the Divine Presence in the Temple of the Lord. This causes us to reflect upon our own demeanor in any Catholic Church. Do you remember to genuflect? Do you bow in the direction of the tabernacle? Bowing is good. Genuflecting is better, but please, please…never ignore Him.
Fr. Gerard Gordon