Destined For Destruction
The ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche) in downtown Berlin stand as a monument to the ravages of war. On November 23, 1943, during the Second World War, an air raid irreparably damaged the church.
The symbolism is ambivalent. The church structure survived the evil of war, symbolizing the triumph of religious worship. But the building remains badly damaged, reminding us of the troublesome and long-lasting effects of wickedness, as well as the ravages of time. All things made by human hands—including great temples and cathedrals—are destined for destruction.
The Temple of Jerusalem is among the most significant places of worship in history. But it, too, was destined for destruction. Solomon built the Temple in 957 BC, and the new Temple became the sole place of Jewish sacrifice, the summit of Jewish worship. The Babylonians destroyed the Temple in 586 BC when they captured Jerusalem and led the Israelites off to exile. After the Maccabean Revolt, the Jews rededicated the Temple in 164 BC. The Roman General Crassus plundered Temple again in 54 BC. Around 20 BC, Herod the Great began the renovation, and it became known as Herod’s Temple.
Roman legions under the command of Titus destroyed the Temple in 70 AD following the Jewish rebellion in 66 AD. The destruction of the Temple—fulfilling the sorrowful prophecy of Christ—is among the most significant events in the history of the Jewish people. The Western Wall—the famous Wailing Wall—is all that remains. The engraving on the Arch of Titus (still standing today in Rome near the Forum) depicts the victory parade of Roman legions as they celebrated the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple.
But the Jews, as with most religious and ethnic groups, have long memories. On the night of May 14, 1948, when Israel declared its independence as a state, the Jews of Rome celebrated with a triumphant parade. Marching for the first time under the despised Arch of Titus, their message was: “The glory of Ancient Rome is gone, but we are victorious.” The historical defiance of the Jews despite the destruction of the Temple points to a poignant and enduring reality. Some temples are immune to destruction because human hands do not build them.
One such temple—referred to by Wordsworth as “tainted nature’s solitary boast”—started its silent construction around the same time as Herod began to rebuild the Temple in 20 BC. 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 Jesus even before it took place in history. In her “Immaculate Conception,” God begins to form the child Mary as another kind of enduring temple: a sinless basilica that would bear our Savior Jesus, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
Great men change the course of history. We delight in studying history-changing events and inventions. Natural marvels fascinate, and natural disasters horrify. Yet Saint Luke, in his Gospel, spends valuable scroll time on what at first appears to be an inconsequential family story. Mary, with child, visits her cousin Elizabeth. The elderly Elizabeth, also with child, reports that her baby leaps with joy as the two cousins meet. The unborn child, John the Baptist, is the first to witness the divinity of the unborn Jesus in the temple of Mary’s womb. An everyday encounter between two maternal “temples” carrying unborn babies foreshadows the defining event of the history of man.
Temples, churches, and basilicas are made by human hands and will pass away in time. But the temples of our souls will never pass away. Our souls are God’s handiwork. We are temples made in the image of God, and even the sands of time cannot ruin them. Only sin can deface a soul: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt. 10:28)
Perhaps all that remains within us is a mere remnant of a once-great temple, an inner secret Wailing Wall, a badly damaged sanctuary such as Gedächtniskirche. So we need to enkindle a fire of holy defiance in the face of the destruction and rebuild—with God’s grace—a renewed and glorious temple of the Holy Spirit. There are no grounds for discouragement because God has created us for a purpose that we must discover: “For in thee my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of thy wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by. I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.” (Ps. 57:1-2) With God’s grace, our temples can be cleansed and restored to magnificent basilicas—if we, like Mary, choose to accept Him and open our sanctuaries to His love.
Mary is the “Temple of the Most Holy Trinity” and the Mother of God. We rejoice in her because Mary is our exemplar, the perfect example in responding to God in freedom and becoming His Temple in glory. Hence it is up to us to choose the type of temple we will be: temples of the Holy Spirit in imitation of Mary, or temples of sin and sons of perdition. So “surrender to God, and He will do everything for you.” (Divine Office, Easter Season)
The temples of the world will return to dust. But by the love of God, we must remember we are God’s handiwork. We are not destined for destruction but ordained to eternal life if we choose Him and accept His love. We will forever be Temples of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s not mess it up.
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