March 14, 2013 § 8 Comments
Long ago I had a dream. It was some time after we moved away from a spiritual home, a contemplative Benedictine monastery. I was bereft. Challenged – in my new work of learning psychotherapy. In the dream I was faced with a ruined monastery, a pasture strewn with weathered stones. Which I felt compelled to somehow rebuild. Stone by stone. It was an impossible task. But there it was!
I am reminded of this dream by the election of a new Pope, who has chosen the name, Francis, and by words spoken to his namesake, while praying:
Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.
Having pondered these words, in the light of the crisis currently gripping the church of Rome, I cannot but consider all their portent as a key to what this new Pope faces and must try to tackle. Like my dream, admittedly, an impossible task. This post is an effort to ponder a bit, in the light of scripture, the meaning of those words: Repair my house.
House, as a concept, is rich in meaning throughout the entire Bible. In addition to a specific dwelling, house in the Hebrew Bible often refers to a lineage or an entire people. It’s a common figure of speech, where a “part” stands for the “whole”. So, for example, the House of Israel, which can stand for the lineage of Jacob, given the name Israel after his encounter with God. Or House of Israel can stand for the entire Jewish nation as we see over and over, for example in these psalm verses:
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God. [Psalm 98.3]
The Lord has been mindful of us; he will bless us;
he will bless the house of Israel;
he will bless the house of Aaron; [Psalm 115.12]
O house of Israel, bless the Lord!
O house of Aaron, bless the Lord! [Psalm 135.19]
There is another meaning for house in the Bible. It can stand for the dwelling of the Holy One. And along with that there is a strong admonition that no man can build such a house, without the express direction of YHWH, the Holy One. There is a long story about this in the Book of Samuel and you can find a pretty good explanation of it here. The long and short of it is found once again in a Psalm:
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord guards the city,
the guard keeps watch in vain.
St. Francis would have been aware of this admonition. Pope Francis, as well. But there is another, perhaps even more important, aspect to the story from Second Samuel, which concerns a prophecy, one which bears on the use of the term house in the New Testament:
12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
Christ identified himself with the Temple in Jerusalem, which is another way of saying that Jesus is the true dwelling of YHWH, the very residence of God’s Glory. Revealer of God’s word and will. Capable of imparting Divine Life to willing souls. And Paul took up this image for the ecclesia, the assembly of Christians, which we now term, the church.
Thus, if you are following along here, there is a progression from the concrete (an actual house, an actual lineage or people, an actual Temple) to a metaphor, which is a Spiritual Reality, the assembled People of God, which constitutes the Living Christ, the Divine Life (of promise) embodied in each and all of us. Assuming that we allow ourselves to be built, fashioned, in the Divine Image. This is the mystical understanding of John’s Gospel and of many passages in Paul’s letters. It is not a work we can do on our own, any more than David could build a house for the Lord on his own.
This requires Divine initiative. A calling. And humble response.
Now I am no prophet nor seer. But it does not take a lightening strike to see the state of crisis in the church of Rome. And it doesn’t take a psychoanalyst to interpret the name “Francis” and the choice of that name by a humble, newly elected Pope, faced with a church falling into ruins – to come up with an accurate interpretation – for our day – of words (and a calling!) first given to St. Francis, and now inherited by Pope Francis:
“Go Francis, and repair my house … falling into ruin.”