Why Build the Temple?

Cosmas Damian apse

We read in the book of the prophet Haggai, “This people says: Now is not the time to build the temple of God.”

Ok. Let’s give this people the benefit of the doubt. After all, the Lord Himself declared that He does not dwell in piles of stone erected by human hands. The heavens are God’s throne and the earth His footstool. What kind of temple could we build for such a god, the Lord Who made heaven and earth out of nothing?

So: Good point, people. How could now be the time to build a temple for God, when we could never hope to build an adequate temple?

But then, as we read, God said: Consider your ways, people. You don’t want to pour out your energy and money to build My house? Ok. But what kind of lives do you really have going anyway? Are you thriving? Are you happy? Don’t you labor long and hard to earn a bag full of holes? You fill your bag with what you think is happiness, but it all falls out through the holes, and you wind up with nothing.

Maybe you don’t want to presume to build My temple. But, really: what else are you going to do? What else would really be any good?

Then come the Lord’s disarmingly beautiful words, so majestic in their humble fatherliness:

Why don’t you just focus on giving Me glory? Give Me glory, and let Me take pleasure in it.

The Lord Himself builds the Temple. The Temple is Christ, Head and members, united in love to the glory of God.

Last year on the Memorial of Ss. Cosmas and Damien, we meditated for a moment on the apse mosaic in their church in Rome. In the picture, St. Peter and St. Paul present St. Cosmas and St. Damien to Christ.

Cosmas and Damien hold in their hands their crowns, which they won by joyfully living and dying for one purpose: the glory of the Lord. We can win such crowns, too.

Cosmas and Damian’s Justice and Temperance

Saints Cosmas and Damien were brothers, Arabians, physicians. During the persecution of Diocletian at the beginning of the fourth century, they were beheaded. Their relics were eventually brought to Rome, where Pope St. Felix transformed an ancient pagan temple in the Forum into their church. The names of Cosmas and Damian are invoked in the ancient prayer of the Roman church.

The apse of their basilica has a famous mosaic, depicting Saints Peter and Paul presenting the martyrs Cosmas and Damian to Christ.

King Solomon prayed that the Lord would spare him both poverty and superfluity. “Provide me only with the food I need” (Proverbs 30:8). Better to have only the necessities, with nothing added. After all, the Lord told us to “take nothing for the journey” (Luke 9:3).

Wise king Solomon wanted to focus on other things than his material needs and desires. Namely, praising God and seeking the truth. Saints Cosmas and Damian offered medical treatment for free. Because of this, everyone knew them. When the persecution came to Asia Minor, the gun-sights were immediately trained on the magnanimous Christian doctors of Cilicia.

Seems to me that three key points emerge:

1. The Lord provides enough for everyone to eat and drink, and not starve, and not freeze to death in the cold. He has no plan for anyone to luxuriate in this world. Not because He doesn’t want us to be happy; He actually has better things planned for us than bon-bons on the divan.

2. The wise person cultivates the cardinal virtue of temperance. The temperate person fasts and feasts, according to reason, proportion, “appropriateness.” Temperance allows us to focus on spiritual pursuits, leaving us to eat, drink, sleep, exercise, and have sex according to what makes sense, given the realities of our particular individual lives.

3. In the mosaic in Rome, Saints Cosmas and Damien hold their crowns in their hands as Saints Peter and Paul present them to Christ, waiting for Christ Himself to place the crowns on their heads. The crowns Cosmas and Damian hold are crowns of martyrdom. But, of course, they only became crowns of martyrdom because of external events beyond the saints’ control. The generous physicians would have been glad to continue to try to heal the sick on earth, if such had been the divine will.

If we hold in our hands crowns of justice and temperance, if our consciences do not accuse us of self-indulgence or abuse of this world’s goods, then we can stand up straight before the Lord and live the life He gives us to live. We can say to St. Peter and St. Paul, to St. Joseph, St. Francis, and all the saints: “Denizens of the court of heaven, I stand ready to serve. Please present me to Christ. If it be His will that I remain on earth today, then give me the grace to serve well here. If today is my day to suffer death, let it come.”

The just, temperate person can live life as God made us to live, starting now, and never ending.