St Paul writes, “You are God’s building…do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”
The teaching functions on several levels. You and I as individuals are the temple of the Holy Spirit–God’s beautiful building. Each part of us–every physical part, but also every thought, every idea, every prayer, every memory is a part of the whole building. However, the church is also the Body of Christ, so the metaphor of the temple also applies to the whole community. Each one of us are ‘living stones’ as St Peter says, built up as a spiritual temple.
All of this imagery combines on this feast of the Dedication of St John Lateran. Here is the mother church of the whole Church–the cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome. Here is the church that reminds us that every church is a glorious temple and dwelling place for the Son of God, and that as such we too are meant to be glorious temples to the living God.
See how banal, barren and brutal all of this imagery is when our churches have become utilitarian auditoria–bare Protestant preaching barns–cheap and nasty warehouses to have Mass in? What does this modern, utilitarian architecture say about your spiritual life and mine? It makes prayer and the life of sanctity to be a barren, utilitarian thing–lacking all beauty and mystery and grace.
And what is utilitarianism except a harsh heresy–a crude religion of works–for the creed of the utilitarian is, “If it works it’s good” which is another way of saying “I believe in good works.” A utilitarian church building cannot speak of the grace of beauty or the absurd extravagance of worship. It cannot speak of the mystery of God’s love poured out in beautiful abundance in the world or the strange shadow and light of God’s providence and grace.
It’s just a big boxy room where you can seat a lot of people, where you make sure the air conditioning works and the sound system works, and then you put some pretty stuff in it because Catholic churches are supposed to be pretty.
Instead let us build beautiful churches, churches, that like St John Lateran take centuries to complete and beautify–churches that reflect the work of grace in our lives and the fact that I too long to be a beautiful temple–in which every part of me has been transformed and glorified by grace–a life that people behold–like they behold the work of St John Lateran–and say, “That’s beautiful!”
PS: If you want an update on the beautiful church we are planning to build in Greenville, South Carolina in the heart of the Bible belt–go here. You can also read there my archived articles on architecture.