There is a species of seal in Hawaii that spends so much time in the sea that algae grows in its coat, lending it a greenish tint. Likewise, in Costa Rica, the sloth is so sedentary it not only attracts algae and fungi, helping it to blend in with the forest, but its fur also is home to a certain species of moth.
Like the sloth and the seal—fittingly named the ‘monk’ seal—Psalm 92 calls on us to become so ensconced in the environment of the temple that we become part of it. Referring to the just ones, it declares in verse 13, “Planted in the house of the Lord, they shall flourish in the courts of our God.” This hearkens back to Psalm 1, where the righteous man is also likened to a tree planted by still waters—itself a reference to a return to an Eden, where, as in the temple, God is directly encountered.
But isn’t the temple an Old Testament institution? A shadow of things to come?
Indeed it is.
But our God does not throw things away. Our God renews. So it is with the temple.
Christ is the new, true temple
In the New Testament, Christ becomes the temple—the place where heaven meets earth, where we encounter God. Jesus famously declared this when he said the temple would be torn down and rebuilt in three days, a statement which John says was meant to be understood explicitly in reference to Himself (John 2).
This is hinted at John 1 where the gospel writer says that Jesus, as the Word of God, ‘dwelled’ among us. There, in verse 14, the Greek word is skēnoō, which would be more literally translated as ‘set up a tabernacle’ or ‘abide in a tabernacle,’ which in the Old Testament times was a sort of precursor to the temple. We could translate verse 14 as ‘tabernacled’ among us.
As with the old, so with the new: we are still called to dwell in the temple. Jesus says in much in John 15:4-5, again turning to a floral analogy:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches: he that abides in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.
This command is repeated in 1 Peter 2:3-5—this time using more explicit temple terminology:
[F]or you have tasted that the Lord is good. Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
In the gospels, the figure of Anna illustrates this notion devotion to God through the temple, as described in Luke 2:36-37,
There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
Notice how Luke depicts Anna: as one who ‘never left the temple’ but remained there 24-and-7, expressing her devotion through fasting and prayer. Anna exemplifies for us what it means to be a ‘living stone’—to become so devoted to God in the temple that one becomes a part of it.
Union with Christ, the true temple
As Christians, with our understanding of Christ as the new temple, becoming a ‘living stone’—
part of the temple—means union with Christ Himself. We are no strangers to this type of language: in the Eucharist, the body, soul, and divinity of Christ are fully and really present to us. However, union with Christ comes not only through sacraments but also through prayer, something to which the great mystics of the ages, such as St. John of the Cross, have testified.
In John 15:7, Jesus said as much: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you shall ask whatever you will, and it shall be done unto you.” Abide in the Word Incarnate, and His words—let’s say the Word itself—will abide in you. In the context of prayer, we think immediately of the Our Father.
Notice in this prayer, it is the Father, not the Son, who is addressed. Praying to ‘Our’ Father implies a radical notion of sonship in which we become the adoptive children of God. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:5, “He destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of His will.”
Just as we need to recover a heightened Eucharist awareness—as St. John Paul II put it, ‘amazement’—so also we need to do the same with prayer, letting our minds and hearts be fired by this incredible truth that through prayer we become united with Christ and caught up into the very life of the Trinity.
How to pray constantly ‘in the temple’ today
Unlike Anna, we do not need to be a physical place to pray in the ‘temple.’ Because Christ is the true temple, we can now pray anywhere and be ‘in the temple.’
In other words, all of us are called to be living stones, to become part of the temple, and all of us—regardless of our schedules, personal circumstances, and state in life—can answer this call one way or another. Below are four ways we can live out this calling of constant prayer ‘in the temple.’
- Daily Mass. For those who are able, participating in daily Mass is one obvious way. Not only is the liturgy itself prayer, but there are the private prayers we offer before, during, and after Mass.
- Liturgy of the Hours. For those who are unable to attend daily Mass for whatever reason an excellent way to ensure you pray throughout the day is the Liturgy of the Hours. These prayers are now available online here, so there is no need haul the books to work in order to be able to fit them into your lunch break.
- Traditional daily prayers. Of course there are also the traditional prayers that are associated with specific times of the day, such as the morning offering, the Angelus, and the examination of conscience in the evening—not to mention prayer before meals.
- Exclamations. No one can ever say they do not have enough time for daily prayer. Exclamations are a traditional form of prayer, also known as aspirations or ejaculations, that are short—one or two lines—and meant to be easily recited any time, under any circumstance. Here is a list of some of the traditional ones.