the heart and the temple

th I fell in love with this reading from the prophet Hosea was I was 18, back right after my big conversion experience: ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him. Out of Egypt I called him my son…’ (As a matter of fact I wrote a song based on this reading back then that I still sing.) It’s almost as if you can feel the whole Old Testament image of God turning around right here, from the angry scolding father to the nurturing mother. Actually, this is one of the few places­­––mentioned also in the catechism––where God is imaged as a mother rather than a father: ‘I nurtured you like infants, I raised you to my cheek.’ First of all we learn that God’s anger is really the sadness of a wounded lover. Now here’s an emotion of God’s that we can relate to: “I did all this for you and you still reject me? You still go after false gods? You still go after shallow things that cannot satisfy?” I’ve heard it said that what we think of and experience as God’s wrath is really just the fire of God’s love; it hurts, it burns, while it is consuming us. That’s one way to look at it. But here God says––and here is where the images turn around, pointing to the image of God that Jesus will offer instead––‘I will not give vent to my raging anger; I will not destroy, Ephraim. I am God; I not like you. I will not let the flames consume you!’ There’s an old saying that I saw on a bumper sticker on the back of a pickup truck once: “If you love someone set them free. If they don’t come back to you, hunt them down and kill them.” We’re like that. God’s not like that. God will not consume us until come freely. The one thing we believe and preach over and over is this free will. But why wouldn’t we come? Earlier in the book of the Hosea (Hos 2:16) God has said, ‘I will lead her into the desert, and there I will speak to her heart.’ And Jesus says, in the Gospel of Matthew (11:29), ‘Come to me all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Why wouldn’t we come to such a tender loving God?

I will come back to the second reading in a moment, but first this gospel, Jn 19:31-37: The soldiers stuck a lance into his side and immediately blood and water flowed out. What we’re supposed to be remembering here is the beginning of the Gospel of John when Jesus says ‘Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again (Jn 2:19-21). And John tells us, off to the side in a whisper, He was speaking about the temple of his own body. That’s why we sing that song from Ezekiel 47 on Easter Sunday and throughout Easter time, remembering Good Friday: I saw water flowing from the right side of the temple. Jesus’ very body has become the new temple and out of it is flowing blood and water, the water of Baptism and the blood of Eucharist, life and salvation. And, not just Jesus’ body; Saint Peter and Saint Paul are pains to remind us that now we are temples, too, out of which the streams of living water are to flow. The temple was a building, then it was Jesus’ body and now it the heart of every believer.

And that’s where the second reading fits in, Eph 3:8-12, 14-19. My favorite pithy Christological formulation is in the letter to the Colossians 1:19: In him the fullness of the godhead dwelt bodily. And then Paul says almost the same thing there as he says here: And you have come to fullness in him (Col 2:10). Here he says, So that you may be filled with very fullness of God. So, you see, even this feast, about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is really about us to, urging us on to something. So that we may be filled with very fullness of God. This is the feast of our sacred hearts, too, out of which flow either the blood and water from being pierced as Jesus’ was, or the stream of life giving water that bursts forth in the exuberance of joy and delight of the Spirit living and living in us.

And what is the fullness of God? What is the root and ground? We call it love. That’s what pours out of Jesus’ side—energy, creation, evolution flow from the ground of his being since his ground of being is one with the Ground of Being. That’s what flows out of the temple. We have to get around the Hallmark card, Pop 40 radio version of love. It’s something like this: we believe that there is a root and a ground of being. And whatever that root and ground of being is, we call it love. We believe that there is a spiritual power in our innermost self. And we call that power love. Whatever you think love is in its most sublime form, whatever wonderful concept you can conjure up for love––that is what we believe is at the heart of universe. Or you could put it the other way around: What we call love is really the energy of creation and evolution. What we call love is the ground of our very being. Spiritual power is love––mind you, as Paul says, it is a love that surpasses all understanding––after all this is God, far beyond our petty concepts––but it’s still love, the powerful, fierce, flowing love that is the ground of our being. You might want to say that our hope lies in this: that we believe that the ground and root, the energy of creation, spiritual power is all good­­—it’s benevolent, the exuberance of joy and delight that issues forth as creation from the heart of Jesus. The ground of the universe is conspiring to our happiness and fulfillment.

So let’s reiterate Paul’s prayer at the end of this reading as our intention and hope:

May God grant us, in accord with the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power through the Spirit in our inner self, and may Christ dwell in our hearts through faith, that we, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and know the love that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

 All this reminded me of the saying of Saint Therese of Lisieux which meant so much to me when I was about to make vows as a monk: In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus shall be everything.

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  1. I’d like to hear more about the conversion experience at 18…

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  2. Unrelated to the scriptures here but related to the context of a mother’s love is something my spiritual director shared with me this last week. Here the context is the gospel’s formula, “each will receive what he deserves:” So the good will be blessed for their goodness while the bad will receive mercy without limit.” I love this truth that badness deserves mercy in God’s plan. What mother doesn’t know that.

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