Destined for Destruction
by Rev. Jerry J. Pokorsky
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."
Standing as a monument to the ravages of war in downtown Berlin are the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (in German: Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, but mostly just known as Gedächtniskirche). In World War II, on the night of November 23, 1943, the church was irreparably damaged in an air raid. The symbolism is ambivalent. The church structure survived the evil of war, suggesting the triumph of religious worship; but the structure remains badly damaged, a reminder - if not of the triumph of war - of the troublesome and long-lasting effects of evil. In truth all things made by human hands, including great temples and cathedrals, are destined for destruction.
The Temple of Jerusalem, perhaps the most significant temple in history, also was destined for destruction. Solomon built the temple in 957 B.C., and the temple became the sole place of Jewish sacrifice, the summit of Jewish worship. The Babylonians destroyed the temple in 586 B.C. when they captured Jerusalem and led the Israelites off to captivity. The history up to the time of Christ includes several other desecrations and rededications. After the revolt of Maccabaeus, the temple was rededicated in 164 B.C. The temple was desecrated again in 54 B.C., by Crassus. Around 20 B.C., the building began to be renovated by Herod the Great, and became known as Herod's Temple.
The destruction of the temple - fulfilling the prophecy of Christ - in A.D. 70 by Roman legions under the command of Titus is one of the most important events in the history of the Jewish people. The Western Wall, or the famous Wailing Wall, is all that remains of the temple. Engraving on the Arch of Titus, still standing today near the Roman Forum, depicts the victory parade of Roman legions as they celebrated the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and the destruction of the Jewish Temple. But the Jews, as with every religious and cultural group, have long memories. On the night of May 14, 1948, when Israel was declared a state, the Jews of Rome had a triumphant parade and marched for the first time under the despised Arch of Titus. Their message: "Rome is gone and we are still around. Victory is ours."
The historic defiance of the Jews in the face of the destruction of the temple points to a poignant and enduring reality. There are some temples that are not built by human hands and cannot be destroyed. One such temple, referred to by Wordsworth as "tainted nature's solitary boast," began to be built around the same time as Herod's Temple in 20 B.C. A child is conceived and by God's intervention, in what the liturgy of the church calls God's "prevenient grace," the unborn child participates in the saving action of Christ even before it actually took place in history. In her Immaculate Conception the child Mary was being formed by God to be another kind of enduring temple, a sinless temple for the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Throughout history there are great men, natural marvels and wonderful inventions, mighty and historic events and natural disasters. Yet the evangelist Luke spends valuable scroll time on what first appears to be a rather inconsequential event. In this Sunday's Gospel, Mary, with child, visits her cousin Elizabeth. The elderly Elizabeth, also with child, reports that her child leaps with joy as the two cousins meet. Hence, the unborn child John the Baptist is the first to witness the divinity of the unborn child Jesus, in the temple of Mary's womb. The significance is plain. The joy of man's redemption and the defining event of all of history are revealed in an everyday encounter between two maternal "temples" carrying unborn babies.
Temples and churches and basilicas are made by human hands. But the temples of our souls are God's handiwork and are indestructible. We are first of all temples made in the image of God, an image that can only be defaced, not destroyed. The sands of time cannot ruin the temple of our souls; sin can. Some of us - most of us - are badly damaged temples, like Gedächtniskirche, because of our sins. Perhaps all that remains is a mere remnant of a once great temple, an inner secret "wailing wall," hidden from view but an open spiritual wound nonetheless. If so, we need to enkindle a fire of holy defiance in the face of the destruction to rebuild, with God's grace, a renewed and glorious temple of the Holy Spirit. With God's grace, our temples can be cleansed and restored to magnificent basilicas - if we, like Mary, but choose to accept God's grace.
This Sunday we recall that Mary is the "Temple of the Most Holy Trinity" and the mother of God. In this, we rejoice because Mary becomes our exemplar, the perfect example in responding to God and becoming His temple. Hence it is up to us to choose the type of temple we will be: True temples of the Holy Spirit in imitation of Mary, or temples of sin and sons of perdition. The temples of the world may be expended and return to dust. But by the love of God, we must remember: We are God's handiwork, not destined for destruction but destined for eternal life - if we so choose Him.
While we breathe, it is never too late for confession and the sacrament of penance.
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