18 August 2010

The Soul: the True Temple, the Sacred Sanctuary

This piece from the Carthusian, Dom Augustin Guillerand, teaches us where the true temple is: the human soul. This great Carthusian author, however, in the final paragraph, says something about what the physical temple should be like, that is, the parishes we worship at for Mass, Eucharistic Adoration, etc. Does your parish exhibit the beauty that is suggested here?

We have to accustom ourselves to pray in all places as at all times. The real place to pray in is the soul, for God dwells there. If we would obey our Lord's counsel, when we pray we should enter into the chamber of our soul, close the door and speak to the Father Whose loving Eyes seek ever our own (cf. Saint Matthew 6:6). This inner chamber of our soul is the true temple, the sacred sanctuary, and we carry it with us and can at any time either remain there or quickly return to it should we have been obliged to leave it.

And we must make it a really spotless and beautiful place. Its true beauty, of course, is our Lord's presence. In it He should be able to feel at home, and He is at home if He sees His own features there. These features are His perfections, and when they are reflected in the soul, they are called virtues. The soul that possesses them is beautiful with His beauty; it is ‘perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect’ (Saint Matthew 5:48). The ‘as’ here does not mean ‘as much’; it does not imply equality but resemblance. By the virtues we are re-formed in God's Image, and in the Image of His divine Son, Who came to reveal His Father's features to us, by practicing the virtues.

In this reserved sanctuary -- a new heaven and Kingdom of God -- solitude and silence must reign. God is alone with Himself. The divine Persons do not affect this solitude, they constitute it. The Love Who is their animating force encloses them against all that is not Himself. The City of God is immense, but enclosed. God alone occupies it, and He is All in all. The soul that prays must reproduce this solitude: it must be filled by it to the exclusion of all else. The very colloquy which follows is a kind of silence.

Speech and silence are not opposed: they do not exclude one another. What is opposed to silence is not speech but words: that is, multiplicity. We confuse the silence of Being with the silence of ‘nothingness’, which knows neither how to speak nor how to be silent. All that it can do is to become agitated, and then it dissembles. And it does this by its superficial movements reflecting the nothingness within it. Lip service which has no deep thought to support it; physical postures; facial expressions with no corresponding reality or that flatly deceive -- such is the language of ‘nothingness’.

And that is why it is garrulous. It says little in many words; or it uses words that do not say what it thinks. God needed only one Word to express Himself fully, and it is toward that unity of the Word that we tend when we are alone with God. He has become all, and we tell Him so -- what more can we say? It is the silence of the soul recollected in itself and occupied with Him Whom it finds there. It is the silence of those long nights that Jesus passed on the mountain side during His prayer to God. It was the silence of Gethsemane or of Calvary, broken only by a few words for us.

Churches are places for prayer in common. They must reproduce God's features and those of souls which need the body to express themselves. They must offer to the body lines that run upward toward heaven or fade away in the mystery of a semi-darkness. They must isolate the building from the world and its noises, and for a central point around which everything tends to draw the soul's powers, to concentrate and unify them and evoke our love. They must reveal beauties which are altogether beyond us; they must give us a peace which does not come from created things but draws us above them. They must create a great harmony of the natural and the supernatural, in which He Who has made both matter and spirit is revealed. His presence shines through and His love draws us. We must breathe Him through the very pores of our being, just as we breathe the air. A place of worship which does not evoke this response, and the soul that on entering it does not respond to that appeal, are not true to themselves and deceive others.