“Jesus said, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.'” (John 2:19 NRSV).
“Abba Alonius said, ‘If I had not destroyed myself completely, I should not have been able to rebuild and shape myself again.” (Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Sayings Annotated & Explained by Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, p.51).
Our journey into Holy Week seems to show life as Jesus knew it falling apart. Yesterday on Palm Sunday, the crowds welcomed Him with “Hosanna! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” Then we moved right to Good Friday. Today, the Gospel chosen for this day takes us back to John 12:1-11. So why, you would be right to ask me, am I all the way back to John 2:19?
Yesterday, during the reading of the Passion according to St. Mark, we heard that the witnesses at Jesus’ trial testify falsely to what He said about the destruction of the temple, and raising it up again. I am back at this story in the earlier part of John’s Gospel, because I think it speaks to us about where we are in Holy Week from a Contemplative point of view.
I am disturbed by the words of Abba Alonius in which he said “If I had not destroyed myself completely.” But, then he goes on with a striking parallel to what Jesus said in John 2:19 about raising up the temple again.
In her commentary on these words of Abba Alonius, Christine Valters Paintner writes,
“The paradox in the spiritual life is that this journey through destruction is necessary to reach any kind of resurrection or new life beyond it. We are rebuilt and reshaped through this process. We must fully surrender ourselves to the awfulness of it. We must stay present with how we feel and bring compassion to ourselves in the process. We must learn to no longer feel victim to our suffering, but to instead discover a kind of inner fierceness that allows us to look death in the eye without flinching” (p.50).
It is such a mystical experience to contemplate that God uses our brokenness through the Passion and Death of Jesus; to helps us rebuild our personal interior ruins into a new person, with a new structure and a new life. We tend to see our troubled humanity in Jesus for what it is on the surface; and it is terrible. But when we spend some time in solitude and silence with the great mystery of what Jesus does with us during Holy Week, we can experience the power of Christ destroying those temples of our false-sense of self within us that holds on to grudges, anger, resentment, grief and addiction. Christ comes to demolish these stones that we have held up for so long, by walking with us through them as they are, as we are; so that by God’s grace God can transform us into a newer and more glorious temple where the Resurrection is visible and tangible. It begins with us praying and being open to God’s work within our deepest cells.
“First of all, every time you begin a good work, you must pray to him most earnestly to bring it to perfection” (RB 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in English, p.15).
“8. Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him” (from the Short Rule of St. Romuald).
What temples in your life will you let Jesus help you destroy, so that you can be rebuilt anew?
Peace be with all who enter here.
Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB-CoS
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