Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves, He said, "Take these out of here, and stop making My Father's House a marketplace." His Disciples recalled the Words of Scripture, "Zeal for Your House will consume me."
At this the Jews said to Him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years and you will raise it up in three days?" But Jesus was speaking about the temple of His Body. Therefore, when He was raised from the dead, His Disciples remembered that He had said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken. (Jn 2:13-22)
Places of worship have been and are constructed for the practical purpose of creating a “prayerful ambiance” that encourages and enables the faithful to pray better. They inspire the faithful to seek and establish an intimate communion with the Deity through that thoughtful array of decorations, lamps, candles, flowers, incense, statues, music; which vary from religion to religion and from place to place.
It is our sacred duty to worship God, and to worship Him not only in our heart, but also externally and in union with others, for we are made of soul and body and are social beings. This is one of the reasons why places of worship exist.
For us Christians our churches are not just buildings that enable us to pray better. Many of them are also expressions of our gratitude to God for certain special favors we have received from Him. Some recall historical events in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, such as his birth or death, or different episodes in his life. This is the case of many churches in the Holy Land.
Other churches are meant to honor Mary Most Holy and other saints; others commemorate certain apparitions and miracles. Still others recall the martyrdom of brave believers, from the very beginning of the Christian era to our own time. Most of the ancient churches are eloquent witnesses to the faith of our ancestors. As such, they are also an encouragement and a challenge for us to be worthy of them.
And since churches and other places of worship are directly related to God, it is just spontaneous and perfectly understandable that those who plan and build them should try to make them as worthy of God as they can. This is the area where devotion and art forge a “Holy Alliance,” the result of which are majestic constructions, statues, paintings and other forms of artistic creation which form the object of admiration of millions of people. This is where artistic creativity and religious fervor merge into one and bring about the realization of structures that are monuments not only to a deep religious faith but also to the versatility and aesthetic dimension of human genius.
But this is also an aspect of these religious buildings and works of art that may lead to exaggerations, and even aberrations. Some of these places of worship may become also manifestations of, and monuments to, human pride. Some may even create false assurances about God’s special favor that is too closely linked to, and almost totally identified with, the material building or objects themselves.
This happened to the Jews in reference to their Temple in Jerusalem – something against which prophets like Jeremiah raised their voices. This can still happen to us Christians who may be tempted to forget that the most important and precious asset of the Church is not its sacred buildings (no matter how artistic and majestic they may look), but people, especially those in need. The essence of Christianity is neither institutions nor buildings but LOVE – a love patterned after the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.
This is something we should reflect on very seriously, especially when certain church leaders or devotees are tempted to compete with worldly institutions in terms of material constructions and artifacts, including religious buildings and various forms of artistic creations.
We should never forget that at the end of our life and at the end of time, we will be judged by Jesus Christ. At that moment, what will determine our eternal happiness or unhappiness will be neither the number nor the splendor of the places/objects of worship we have created, but the acts of charity and justice toward our neighbor that we have performed (or failed to perform) in our earthly life.
EUCHALETTE 9 November 2008
Word and Life Publications
MCPO Box 1820, Makati City 1258, Philippines