Are You a Beautiful Temple?

St Paul writes, “You are God’s building…do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

The teaching functions on several levels. You and I as individuals are the temple of the Holy Spirit–God’s beautiful building. Each part of us–every physical part, but also every thought, every idea, every prayer, every memory is a part of the whole building. However, the church is also the Body of Christ, so the metaphor of the temple also applies to the whole community. Each one of us are ‘living stones’ as St Peter says, built up as a spiritual temple.

All of this imagery combines on this feast of the Dedication of St John Lateran. Here is the mother church of the whole Church–the cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome. Here is the church that reminds us that every church is a glorious temple and dwelling place for the Son of God, and that as such we too are meant to be glorious temples to the living God.

See how banal, barren and brutal all of this imagery is when our churches have become utilitarian auditoria–bare Protestant preaching barns–cheap and nasty warehouses to have Mass in? What does this modern, utilitarian architecture say about your spiritual life and mine? It makes prayer and the life of sanctity to be a barren, utilitarian thing–lacking all beauty and mystery and grace.

And what is utilitarianism except a harsh heresy–a crude religion of works–for the creed of the utilitarian is, “If it works it’s good” which is another way of saying “I believe in good works.” A utilitarian church building cannot speak of the grace of beauty or the absurd extravagance of worship. It cannot speak of the mystery of God’s love poured out in beautiful abundance in the world or the strange shadow and light of God’s providence and grace.

It’s just a big boxy room where you can seat a lot of people, where you make sure the air conditioning works and the sound system works, and then you put some pretty stuff in it because Catholic churches are supposed to be pretty.

Instead let us build beautiful churches, churches, that like St John Lateran take centuries to complete and beautify–churches that reflect the work of grace in our lives and the fact that I too long to be a beautiful temple–in which every part of me has been transformed and glorified by grace–a life that people behold–like they behold the work of St John Lateran–and say, “That’s beautiful!”

PS: If you want an update on the beautiful church we are planning to build in Greenville, South Carolina in the heart of the Bible belt–go here. You can also read there my archived articles on architecture.

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  • Bethie

    In Utah we have "meeting houses" on every corner, and that's just what they 'feel' like. But we also have many beautiful Temples, though not in the Catholic tradition (except one, see link). This may be considered 'blasphemy' (by both religions!), but while visiting in one these modern Temples,during on Open House, I felt very strongly, Blessed Mother Mary hovering above me and watching over me! She was there! There is one beautiful Cathedral in Utah, the architecture is amazing! Come visit!

  • Dan

    Amen Father, amen! I keep telling everyone how epic it is that the Sagrada Familia won't be finished until 2026!

  • Mangia Mama

    I am in absolute agreement with Fr. Longenecker. Part of my family's conversion story involves Mt. Angel Abbey in St. Benedict, Oregon. My 17 year old daughter was not wanting to become Catholic & thought we were all "nuts". The kids all went up to the abbey one Sunday afternoon. They walked up to the church & my oldest son said they should go in and pray. As soon as she kneeled down, she literally knew she was "on holy ground".My other kids (21, 20 & 18) have also commented on the differences between the numerous protestant churches we've attended in the past~ the main difference between them and the Catholic churches we've gone to Mass at isn't so much the statues or the artwork, but the True Presence that is in every Catholic Church. We have come to realize that certain churches can seem to represent their patrons~ our parish, St. Joseph's in Salem, Oregon is a beautiful church with soaring ceilings & a lot of dark woodwork. St. Mary's, in Mt. Angel, Oregon, is a wonderful gothic church that is light & bright~ causing the 17 year old daughter to stand with tears in her eyes the first time walking through the doors at the awe & beauty she felt. Truth & beauty~ it comes best through the Catholic Church.

  • Alfred

    Perhaps too much money has been spent in the past on churches that could have been spent for the poor. The baroque churches would be a good example. The masses celebrated in the first centuries were in humble surroundings. It is the mass not the ambience is paramount.

  • Wine in the Water

    Alfred,All that we really need for mass is a priest and bread and wine. We don't absolutely *need* even the laity. But that is the thing, ours is a God of abundance. He could have done anything to save us, but He went through Incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection.Our churches only *need* to be very little. But our churches *can* be so very much. Think of the faith that has been fed by those Baroque churches. Think of the witness they give about the value of the mass that they house.Remember, all that was really needed for the ark of the covenant was a box or even a bag. But God directed the use of precious wood, precious metal, and precious talent.

  • James Joseph

    Our Catholic edifices built north of Salt Lake City, anyway, seem to have been guilt by the same guy who plopped the eerie church-looking buildings. The sharp angles and the cinder-blocks and Mary Magdalene (where have they put my Lord?) tabernacles all seem to be the same.Not a single Catholic altar, is facing to the East, including the ones consecrated before the Great Upheaval of Freesmasonry in the Church, and abondonment of the Vulgate for the RSV. I think not even the monastary in Huntsville, but of that I am not entirely certain. They are still great (read: the center of the universe) places because Jesus is there in the Tabernacles.Some day Utah will give itself over to Jesus through Mary.

  • Dan

    Alfred, I see the point you're making, but it seems utilitarian to me. Can you really put a price on the spiritual consolation a poor person would experience, upon entering a beautiful baroque Church? Man, he does not live on bread alone.Also, to Wine in the Water's point, celebrating the Holy Mass isn't about bare essentials. The Sacraments make visible the invisible, yes? So sing with harp and lyre, and build monuments of His Greatness.

  • Braut des Lammes

    I think I'd be one of these old and orthodox churches where it is rather dark inside but with some golden highlights, red and blue lamps and icons. And I'd be happy because Christ dwells inside of me.

  • BHG

    Alfred: It is not either/or. It is both/and. Beautiful churches can stir the soul, and a soul stirred can feed the world. Neither God's love nor God's gifts (nor ours) is a zero-sum game. Having the one does not deny the other.

  • Brent Stubbs

    Bethie,She was there…because you were there…to watch over you…that's it.