In today’s first Mass reading, from the first Book of Kings, Solomon exclaims, “Can it indeed be that God dwells on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built!”
The truth, of course, is that God cannot be contained. We recognize the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but that doesn’t mean Christ is not everywhere present. We go to Church to communally worship in the presence of God, but that doesn’t mean God is not present outside of the church building.
All that exists, in every moment, is sustained by being held in God’s embrace; God is present everywhere, something Gerard Manley Hopkins expressed so beautifully in his poem, God’s Grandeur, where he talks of the world being “charged with the grandeur of God.”
That doesn’t mean that Solomon’s temple was not a sacred place, that there was not value in his building a temple to God. In talking about this issue in his book, The Mystery of Faith, Michael Himes writes,
If everything is engraced, then somewhere, sometime that grace must be expressed. To give an example: if God is everywhere, how can we speak of certain places as sacred? Whatever we mean when we call a church or a chapel a sacred space, we certainly cannot mean that God is present there but not present in the parking lot next door or at the supermarket or in the bank. If God is present everywhere, what makes the church or a chapel a special, sacred place? The answer is not that God is present there and absent elsewhere, but that, since God is present everywhere, you and I need to notice, accept and celebrate that presence somewhere. So the community sets apart a particular place and calls it sacred.
So, as did Solomon, we call our churches, our chapels, our temples sacred. But, like Solomon, we need to always remember that doing so does not confine God to those places. God cannot be contained.