Saturday, February 19, 2011

Reflection on the Daily Mass Reading: "Temples" of God's Spirit and "Channels" of God's Reign

"Brothers and sisters:
 Do you not know that you are the temple of God, 
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?" 1 Cor. 3:16-23.

The above passage from Paul's letter to the Corinthians refers to his conviction that the entire Corinthian community is the temple of God's Spirit. When he uses the pronoun "you", given the context of what immediately precedes this verse (Paul talking about the building up of the Church), we can deduce that he is speaking in the plural sense of "all of you." However, given the tendency in our culture to individualize or overly-personalize the Christian faith, the notion of being a "temple of the Holy Spirit" is usually used to refer to individuals. This raises an important question concerning the ways in which we can legitimately (meaning, with a basis in scripture) approach the notion of being a temple of God's Spirit, and, by extension, a channel of God's Reign.

The three "interlocking", "mutually penetrating", and "mutually conditioning" ways that we can approach the concept of being a temple of God's Spirit and a channel of God's Reign is intra-personal, interpersonal, and communal. "Interlocking" means that these three modalities of God's presence are necessarily and integrally connected. "Mutually penetrating" implies that each mode is intended to enhance the other modes. Finally, "mutually conditioning" means that each is as necessary as the other and none can be arbitrarily disregarded. The point being made here is that all three of these modes need to be appreciated and integrated into the lives of contemporary Christians if the Spirit and God's Reign are to take firm hold of our lives, community, and world.

"Intra-personal" refers to the conviction that every Christian person is indwelled to at least some degree by the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This, of course, implies that singular persons can be thought of as temples of God's Spirit and channels of God's Reign. Interpersonal speaks to the fact that no one believer has a "monopoly" on the divine presence and must of necessity be in meaningful and supportive relationships with others if the "presence of God" and "God's Reign" is to be an active force within one's life. Last, but by no means least, the Spirit and God's Reign manifest not only within individual persons, nor merely in relationships, but in communal networks that represent humanity's best effort at organizing supportive societal structures (such as the Church). By extension, God's Spirit and Reign also manifest in the "web of life" that is the community of Creation. One contemporary theologian has gone so far as to speak of how the Earth can be thought of as part of God's Body (she's simply drawing out the full implications of Jesus becoming not only human, but a creature and a part of creation). Therefore, there is a theological basis for talking about all of creation as God's Temple and channel of God's Reign. In sum, if we desire to experience at greater depth what it means to be a Temple of God's Spirit and Channels of God's Reign, than we must not only go "inward" to discover this presence within ourselves, but must allow the Spirit to thrust us beyond ourselves into interdependent relationships of commitment for the good of community and all creation. Pat, TOR