Where is God?

Al Cariño
Reproduced with Permission

While the Cold War was raging between the United States and the then USSR which was led by Russia in the '60s, both nations were engaged in a race to launch the first manned satellite. The Russians won. It was said that while the Russian satellite was circling the earth, its astronaut looked out of the window to look for God. This he did because people on earth said that "God is up there?" Did he find God "up there". Of course not.

Where is God? Is He in the heavens above or in the depths below? In the world to come or already in our midst? Where is He in the most personal and intimate way?

In today's gospel reading, we see Jesus in the temple of Jerusalem before the feast of the Passover (Jn. 2:13-22). The temple had an important place in His life. A few weeks after His birth, His mother presented Him there. At the age of 12, He argued there with the religious leaders of the Jews. Now, He was there with the other Jewish pilgrims. They all went to the temple because God dwells in its holiest place, the "Holy of Holies." By going regularly to the temple, Jesus placed Himself positively in the living religious tradition of His own people.

It was during this visit that Jesus noticed how the temple - His "Father's house" - was made into a "marketplace." Angered at what He saw, Jesus made a whip out of cords and drove all the traders and money changers out of the temple area. In doing so, He showed that He opposed whatever ran contrary to genuine worship. In other words, let the temple be what it was - a place of prayer, not of commerce.

When the Jews asked what sign Jesus could show for doing what He did, He answered, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." Important as the temple was for Jesus, its destruction was the ultimate purpose of His entire ministry. For it would signal the end of the Jewish order of worship and its replacement with a new one. This became a reality when after His death, "the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom" (Mt. 27:51). Thereafter, the new order of worship would be focussed on Jesus' body. This was what John meant when he added, "He (Jesus) was speaking about the temple of his body." The Eucharist, His Body and Blood, would now be the center of worship in the new dispensation.

This leads us to the commemoration of the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran which the Church is celebrating today. The Lateran has a long history. As early as the time of Sts. Peter and Paul, the Church of Rome was already persecuted. This led the early Christians to bring the Church literally underground - to the catacombs. Mass was said on altars built over the bones of martyrs. Then in the fourth century, Constantine, the first Catholic Emperor of the Roman Empire, gave the Basilica to the Bishop of Rome. It became the Pope's cathedral church.

Being the Holy Father's own church, it is the "head" of all the churches in the world. Moreover, as the "mother" church, all churches, including our own parish church, descended from it. History tells us that in earlier days, when the Holy Father presided at Mass in the Basilica, the nearby churches sent a part of their consecrated altar bread to be commingled in the chalice at the Pope's Mass. Even today, after the consecration the priest drops a particle of the consecrated host into the chalice as a reminder of every church's union with the Pope. It also indicates that there is only one sacrifice, one bread, one Lord through the ages - Jesus Christ.

In the Lateran Basilica as in any church, the center of worship is the Mass. The churches we gather and worship in may not be as great and beautiful as the Lateran Basilica. But our faith tells us that the only sacrifice acceptable to the Father, the Eucharist, is also offered in those churches, no matter how simple or poor they are. Not only that, they, too, have their own Holy of Holies - Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Moreover, our faith tells us that after the Ascension of His Son Jesus, the Father sent His Spirit to dwell in us, making each one of us His temple. Thus, more than our churches made of stone and wood, we are the "living stones" who build up the living Church.

Finally, our faith tells us that when we gather and worship in our homes, churches, etc., God is there. For did not Jesus say, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them?" (Mt. 18:20)

Where is God? Where is God in a most personal and intimate way? In the depths of our own being. In the community gathered in worship. In the churches where the Eucharist is celebrated. In the tabernacles where Jesus dwells as Eucharist.

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