Week of 27 May, 2019

“[The angel] took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God… I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb”

~ Revelation 21:10,22 ~

There is something about architecture that never ceases to fascinate us. How we live in our environment, particularly what we build and how we do it, that says a lot about ourselves. Whether we think of great medieval cathedrals with spires reaching to the heavens, futuristic structures of glass and metal, functional box-like apartments, or ‘earth houses’ that are seemingly integrated into the natural environment, architecture speaks to aspects of our self-image: green, functional, visionary or religious.

John’s vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 draws heavily on the Book of Daniel’s vision of a restored post-exile Jerusalem. It’s a triumphal vision of the union of God and humanity. Where Daniel saw his new Jerusalem as a symbol of a restored Israel under God, with the Temple as its focus, John sees the New Jerusalem as a renewed humanity dwelling with God. There is no need for a temple, cathedral, church, mosque or synagogue – because humanity is the temple in which God dwells.

It is an architecture of the Spirit, an architecture of union, where the structures of religion – built and human – are literally irrelevant because God’s purpose has been achieved. We are living in the reign of God.

That is John’s vision. It is not now, nor has it ever been, our reality. It is a dream to which we must aspire, for which we must continually work – though, ironically, we must never imagine that we can achieve by our own efforts.

Human history, literally littered with the corpses of millions who have died in successive failed attempts to attain utopia by our own efforts, warns us against such arrogant aspirations. Those who have tried have been at best deluded, at worst ruthless cynics who have manipulated human dreams in pursuit of unattainable perfection. And the innocent have always paid the price.

What then can we do? Do we give up on utopia and wait for God?

I don’t think this is a valid or justified option. Giving up is endorsing the status quo. We need the dream of a New Jerusalem even as we recognise that its fulfilment is beyond our efforts. We need the dream to inform our rational and realistic discernment of what we can do. We need to do what is both right and possible.

The world we make, the human, ecological and built environment we leave behind, is the architecture of our spirit: it tells future generations what we held most important. Will what we leave behind be a foretaste of the New Jerusalem – or a memorial to our greed and folly?

 

Father, send Your Spirit to us to inspire in our hearts the courage to keep building Your Kingdom on earth. Expand our vision so that we might see with Your eyes what you desire for us. Help us to work together to care for the world you gave us. Grant us the grace to always strive for unity and reconciliation with each other, and with You. Amen.

 

Catholic Parliamentary

Liaison Office

Jesuit Institute
South Africa

Reflection prepared by and

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

a.egan@jesuitinstitute.org.za
See more from Anthony Egan SJ
Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Matthew manages the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and is involved in the Spirituality work whilst completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and is also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
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