Thursday the 25th Week in Ordinary Time
As we continue the renovation of the abbey buildings, Haggai reminds us that places of worship can be a problem. And the problem does not seem to be architectural. As we look over the centuries of the many and various building projects in God’s name – Gothic cathedral, wayside chapel, synagogue, temple, the catacombs, mosques, and monasteries – there often doesn’t seem to be much of a connection between the buildings themselves and the belief and behavior of the people who assemble in them.
In noticing this, it is not uncommon for people to be dismissive of the buildings themselves by saying, “A place of worship is not a building; it’s people”, or “I prefer to worship God in the great cathedral of the outdoors”. These pronouncements are often accompanied by the scriptural punch line, “The God who made the universe doesn’t live in dwellings made by hands”, which is supposed to end the discussion. God doesn’t live in buildings – period. That’s what we can sometimes hear.
But then there is Haggai to account for. Haggai was dignified with the title “prophet”, meaning we have to take him seriously. His single task, carried out in a three-and-a-half-month mission, was to get God’s people to work at rebuilding God’s Temple – the same Temple that had been destroyed by God’s decree only seventy or so years earlier, as Jeremiah prophesied.
Compared with the great prophets who preached repentance and salvation, Haggai’s message doesn’t sound very “spiritual”, at least as many people consider “spiritual”. But in God’s economy, it may not be a good idea to rank whatever work he gives us as either more or less spiritual. Our Fr Thomas used to say, when heading for the bathroom with rolls of toilet paper, “We’re not angels yet”. It’s true; we inhabit space. Material – bricks and mortar, boards and nails – keeps us grounded and connected with the ordinary world in which we necessarily live out our extraordinary beliefs as Cistercian monks have always done.
Haggai keeps us in touch with those times in our lives – such as now at the abbey – when renovating the buildings where we eat and sleep and work is an act of obedience every bit as important as praying in the abbey church.