The first reading for today’s Mass comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In it, Paul speaks of our being made “fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God” through Christ. He then says that through Christ we become “a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
A “dwelling place” of God. When we use the term dwelling, we mean something more than a casual residing. When we go on a business trip and stay in a hotel, we don’t speak of the hotel as our dwelling. Even when we visit our relatives and stay at their home, even for a long visit, we don’t speak of dwelling with them. “Dwelling” carries with it a sense of continuing and remaining, as in how we live in our own homes.
So to say God dwells in us speaks of much more than casual contact, but of something far more permanent and intimate. And that permanence and intimacy is something accomplished through the Incarnation of God – through Christ.
In the Old Testament, we hear of God dwelling among his people. In Exodus God says: “I will dwell in the midst of the Israelites and will be their God. They shall know that I, the Lord, am their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I, the Lord, their God, might dwell among them.” In the Book of Kings God promises: “I will dwell in the midst of the Israelites and will not forsake my people Israel.” Similarly, in Leviticus, God reassures his people, “I will set my dwelling among you, and will not disdain you.”
With the Incarnation, however, God comes to dwell in humans. God opens himself to a deeper, more intimate relationship with us by becoming one of us. God first dwells in the man Jesus. But with the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and with the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentacost, God now dwells in the disciples of Jesus, in the body of Christ that are his people – in us. As a result of the Incarnation, God dwells not just with us, near us, among us, but in us.
Thomas Merton speaks of God as occupying the point of nothingness at the center of our being, a place untouched by sin and illusion. He calls this little point of nothingness the “pure glory of God in us.” He speaks of our living in Christ in this way:
As Christ unites in His one Person the two natures of God and of man, so too in making us His friends He dwells in us, uniting us intimately with Himself. Dwelling in us He becomes as it were our superior self, for He has united and identified our inmost self with Himself. From the moment that we have responded by faith and charity to His love for us, a supernatural union of our souls with His indwelling Divine Person gives us participation in His divine sonship and nature.
God dwells in us. We could fill a lot of prayer time contemplating the implications of this astonishing and overwhelming truth.