Let’s start with an antithesis. On the one hand, God dwells everywhere. Nothing could exist at all if it were not upheld immediately by God’s power. On the other hand: We cannot see; we cannot grasp; we cannot know God.
See? Antithesis. Both true. God everywhere. But everything we see, know, conceive: not God. Human beings search constantly for God, Who is everywhere.
Then: God began to work with us to help us deal with this problem. He drew close to the ancient Israelites. He gave them His holy name to invoke. He led them out of slavery to their homeland. He established a dwelling place with them. The Ark of the Covenant.
At first, the Ark moved from place to place. The Holy Dwelling–the place to meet God–was a tent. It could be struck and moved.
Then King David established a permanent location, on the same spot where Abraham had obeyed God’s command, unto the sacrifice of his only son Isaac. David’s son Solomon built the Temple, and the Holy Dwelling had a home: the highest point in the city of…Jerusalem.
So, in the days of old, the Jews–and other people, too, who believed in God–they solved the great antithesis of God being everywhere and nowhere by going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. God reigned everywhere, but could be seen nowhere–but you could visit Him in Jerusalem. You could draw close to Him in Jerusalem.
Let’s pause here for a moment and think about one thing: For an ancient Israelite, or other God-fearing pilgrim, to go to visit God in Jerusalem fundamentally meant going to visit the tablets of the Law. The most important objects in the Temple were the stones on which God had inscribed the Ten Commandments. So there’s an interesting irony about this, too–another antithesis which God, in His love, resolves. How does a person really “go to visit” the Ten Commandments? How do you go on a pilgrimage to the sanctuary where the Ten Commandments are really kept?
Right: By traveling inside. The true temple of the Ten Commandments is a sober, upright conscience. The Israelites, and other ancient believers–they went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem on foot, across the hills and dales. And they went deep inside themselves to find the voice of God, the truth of His will for them. They did both, at the same time–the one journey helping them to make the other.
But it never came together for the ancient Israelites, at least not completely. The prophets declared to the people: you come to the Temple Mount and offer your sacrifices, but inside you know perfectly well that you lie, and cheat, and kill with your malicious thoughts.
And Jerusalem, built as the city of divine peace—it became a tense den of rival factions and worldliness. When Jesus walked the earth, the “Holy City” of Jerusalem burbled like a cesspool, full of the constant tension of small-minded antagonisms.
But wait! We breezed right past the most important point: “When Jesus walked the earth…”
The antithesis: God is everywhere. But nowhere can we see Him. No longer true! “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father,” says the Lord. No holy dwelling has ever been, or ever could be, like this: Jesus. 5’ 8” or 9” or 10”, 150 pounds or so. God. As Pope-Emeritus Benedict put it:
Jesus is a new mode of God’s presence among men, a radically new way in which God makes His home with mankind. In Jesus, God gives Himself entirely into the world.
Christ’s Pascal Mystery in Jerusalem involved the following: He made His flesh and blood present in consecrated bread and wine. He offered this same flesh and blood as a perfect sacrifice to the Father–not on the altar in Temple, but on the altar of the cross, just outside the city walls. He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. And to this day, the sacrament of His Body and Blood makes Him physically present in every Catholic church on earth.
So the antithesis has become the history of God’s humble love for us. God dwells in highest heaven. God dwells in the sanctuary of an upright conscience. God dwells everywhere His power reaches, which is everywhere. God animates His image and likeness, man. Every man woman and child, born and unborn–all bear the stamp of God; all are God’s children.
But, above all, God dwells in Christ’s flesh and blood. God dwells in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. God dwells in the tabernacle.
Human beings seek and seek and seek, and never find. Can’t get no satisfaction. But God dwells right here! He satisfies our longing with such kindness and humility that we can hardly bring ourselves to believe it.
What kind of life, really, can we lead, if the altar and the tabernacle do not sit at the center of it? How can we really pray, if we do not pray to, in, and through the living Christ Who dwells in the Blessed Sacrament?
Are we fancy modern men and women any less in need than the ancient Israelites were—in need of a pilgrimage to the dwelling place of God? Do we need to find the holy dwelling any less than they needed to find it?
Of course not. We need it 100 times more. We need the Blessed Sacrament; we need the Mass; we need the tabernacle. And our neighbors who do not know about the holy dwelling–they need it, too.
We need—and they need–to find the holy dwelling of God, lit by a burning lamp. The tabernacle of the Most High. The Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, God with us.