09 November 2010

The Interior Temple

On this feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, for a portion of the Lessons proclaimed at Matins, the Carthusians listened to an excerpt from ‘The Life in Christ’ by the fourteenth-century Byzantine writer, Nicholas Cabasilas. Contained in these writings are instructions concerning the house of prayer not built by human hands, that is, the soul of man. It is a reflection on the Gospel story of Jesus casting out those who bought and sold in the Temple.

Virtuous men keep prompt vigilance against the roots of evil and resist it from the outset; guarding their heart for God alone, dedicating it to Him as a temple, a remembrance of God. They know, in fact, that this sacred place should not be exposed to folly. They know that nothing equals the sacred soul that is consecrated to God. It must be very impenetrable to those who sell and buy, and be free from hawkers and moneychangers. For him who prays, this house of prayer must be free from turmoil. Truthfully, the term ‘house of prayer’ was not always present in the temple of Jerusalem where at times no one was praying. Instead, the expression ‘house of prayer’ well suits Christians, who according to the prescription of Saint Paul (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17), must be constantly devoted to union with God through constant prayer.

Let us consider this further: The Saviour who repelled other offences by means of words in one case employed both His Tongue and His indignation, Hand and whip alike, giving us occasion to consider how important He regards this matter. It was not so much because He wished to honour that Temple that He did these things, since He foresaw that it would be razed to the ground; rather He did this because He wanted to show how much He desires that each one of the faithful with whom He promised to abide should be freed from anxieties and cares, and at the same time how vehement was His passion and how great the need for constancy and sober reason. Above all, it is the Saviour Himself Who takes the matter in hand. Unless we receive Him within ourselves it is impossible to cast out that which disturbs. It was for these reasons that the Mosaic Law decreed that sacrilege was punishable by death and that the Holy of Holies had to have a veil. Uzzah died because he wanted to support with his unhallowed hand the tottering Ark (cf. 2 Samuel 6:6-7); and Uzziah acquired leprosy from the holy things (cf. 2 Chronicles 26: 16, 19). There are many such things which require that the baptised soul, like a pure and sacred precinct, should be inviolate for the true God. It is important, therefore, that those who live in Christ should keep the soul uncorrupted by worldly cares. Even if something enters the mind which seems to be important, it should not turn aside its reasoning, just as Peter, when he heard the Saviour’s call, paid no heed at all to the things which he had in hand. In fact, anyone who lives in Christ, hears a continuous and constant call by the grace infused from the sacraments.

The grace which dwells in the believer, as Saint Paul teaches, is the Spirit of the Son of God crying in our hearts, ‘Abba! Father’! (Galatians 4:6). In this way they despise all things in order that they may always be able to follow Christ, for as it says, ‘it is not good to forsake the Word of God and to serve tables’ (Acts 6:2). They do this first because for them nothing comes before God, and second, because they expect to find all other things with Him, since He is the dispenser of all good things. Indeed those who first seek the Kingdom of God have a promise from Him Who cannot deceive that all other things will follow (cf. Saint Matthew 6:33). For these reasons the Saviour withdraws from all earthly cares those who cleave to Him. He does not want them to weary themselves with anxiety for the things He has already taken care of for them. If, then, it is harmful to be anxious about these things, what shall we say about being distressed over them? This not only distracts the soul from the remembrance of God, but it also completely obscures the intellect.