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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | Do we cultivate grace or sin within ourselves?

God wants to dwell in us and in the world through us, but we need to choose to dwell in Him also

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Where does God dwell?

This week’s readings tell us about the dedication of the temple of Solomon, and how God’s presence came to dwell in the temple. It’s important for us to understand that the temple was the successor to the Ark of the Covenant — the previous place of God’s special dwelling among the people. And from that succession we can go on to think about the progression of this theme throughout salvation history: the Ark, the Temple, Mary, Jesus, the tabernacle, each one of us. All of these become a dwelling place of God, but each in its own way (not all in the same way).

As long as we’re thinking about where God dwells, we also have to draw a cautionary tale from the rest of Solomon’s life — which we also hear this week. Solomon was given a special gift by God: the gift of wisdom. We might say that wisdom was Solomon’s charism — a special way God came to dwell in him, and a special gift God gave the world through him. Toward the end of his life, however, Solomon forsakes this gift and gives himself over to the worship of foreign gods. The result was not only disastrous for himself; all Israel paid a price — not because God stopped dwelling with him, but because he stopped dwelling with God!

Rather than just point fingers at Solomon, however, we can turn the reflection back on ourselves: where do we dwell?

The question is made all the more poignant by Jesus’ declaration in the Gospel this week: “Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile … From within the man, from his heart, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”

What dwells within us? Both grace and sin; both what is clean and what is unclean; both God’s Word and our selfish desires. Like Solomon, we can bring forth both into the world. The question becomes, which of those do we cultivate?

Psalm 132, which we read in conjunction with the dedication of Solomon’s temple, says: “Lord, go up to the place of your rest!” The literal idea there is that the Ark of the Covenant was going up the mountain on which Jerusalem was built to take its place in the Temple. The Temple became the place of God’s rest.

We see, too, that the Spirit comes down to rest on Jesus at His baptism. Jesus becomes the new place of God’s rest.

And, in a beautiful prayer that’s included in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity invites God to make her soul the place of His rest: “Grant my soul peace. Make it your heaven, your beloved dwelling, and the place of your rest.”

The question of dwelling, then, is a two-way street. God wants to dwell in us, and to dwell in the world through us. But we need to choose to dwell in Him, too. When we choose to dwell in God — by attentive prayer, by thoughtful words, by selfless actions — we become His dwelling place in the world and a source of light and rest to others. When we choose not to dwell in God — by lack of prayer, thoughtless words and selfish deeds — we fail to become His dwelling place in the world and leave others without light and rest.

God’s desire and offer is clear: He wants to dwell in us. Will we choose to dwell in Him or, like Solomon, turn to other gods?

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