Paul said, in his first letter to the Corinthians (3:16), “Do you not know that you are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” We humans use and abuse these earthen vessels of ours, but when we come to realize that the Spirit of God actually dwells within us, life takes on a whole new meaning.
Periodically life will present us with an event that helps us to realize just how valuable our own personal “Temple” is to our God. And I would like to share the story of one of those events in my life.
I have had five surgeries on my right foot and ankle in the past four years. But this problem with my foot is nothing new. I have had trouble with that foot and ankle for many years and periodically it has caused me some inconvenience. For example, one of those inconveniences occurred thirty three years ago.
At that time, I was serving as a deacon at our local parish. We had arranged to take the men of the parish on a weekend retreat. Twenty-five men signed up for the event. The day before we were scheduled to leave for the retreat, I received a call from the retreat center. They informed me that another group that was scheduled to be there with us that same weekend had cancelled. Regrettably, they could not open their retreat center for just our small group and, therefore, they had to cancel our scheduled retreat.
Not wanting to disappoint our twenty-five men, I got on the phone and began making calls to other retreat centers to see if I could find one that would be willing to accept our group on such short notice. I found one. They said, “We have a group of senior men who will be having a silent retreat this weekend. If you are receptive to the idea of a silent retreat, your group is welcome to join them.” I accepted their invitation. I then contacted and informed our men of the change in our destination; and the next day all of us left to join the men at their silent retreat.
I personally had never been to that particular retreat center before. Knowing that retreat centers traditionally have beautiful grounds and facilities, I was anxious to do some exploring. It was raining the evening that we arrived so I postponed my exploration till the following morning. When I awoke the next morning, the rain had stopped; so I went outside, alone, to investigate their grounds. I discovered that they had a beautiful heavily wooded area on the north end of their property. So I decided to jog into and through their woods. While jogging along a path in the woods, I stumbled and fell. When I fell, I heard and felt a bone break in my ankle. I was on a slight rise when I fell, so I rolled, uncontrollably, down a small hill. Once at the bottom of the hill, I sat up. I felt somewhat disoriented. I had no idea what the shortest way back was, other than to go back along the path on which I had been jogging.
As I sat there, I looked around. About one-hundred feet away from me was a young man. He was just standing there in the middle of the woods. It’s odd, I thought, that I had not seen him before. I motioned to him and he came over to me and said, “Can I help you?” I told him that I had broken my ankle and that I needed some help to get back to the retreat center, but I had no idea which way was the shortest way back. He pointed and said, “It is over there.” I asked how he knew and he said, “I am here this weekend with my father.” I said, “I thought it was all senior men.” And he simply said, “I am with my father.” So I got up and put my arm over his shoulder. He appeared to be a man in his very early twenties and he felt strong and muscular. He was the perfect height and his shoulders supported me like a crutch; and, using him as a crutch, we proceeded to walk back.
We hadn’t gone more than a couple of feet and I stopped and said, “This is really difficult. I need a crutch on the other side.” He silently pointed to the ground and right next to me was a stout stick, about two inches in diameter. It was the perfect length. It even had a fork on one end that made it a perfect crutch. So with this young man on one side and my new found crutch on the other, we headed back to the retreat center.
When we approached the buildings, I told him that I didn’t want to create a scene. I knew that the men would be coming out soon, to attend Morning Prayer. We were standing next to a big rock, so I suggested that, as the men exit the building, he should join them and just leave me there sitting on the rock. I told him that, with the wooden crutch, I could easily make it to the office on my own. He agreed, and when the men came out of the building in single file, he joined them at the end of the line. I watched him and, as he reached the end of the building and was about to round the corner, he turned and looked back to me. He smiled, took a few more steps, and disappeared from my sight as he stepped around the corner.
I went inside, got some help, and was driven to the hospital. I have always felt that everything in life happens for a reason, so I figured that there must be someone in this hospital that God wants me to see. Initially, I was alone in the E.R., but soon they brought in another man to occupy the bed next to me. He had a knife, sticking out of his upper right chest. He obviously had been a victim of some violent crime. I thought that this man must surely be the one I was meant to meet, so I introduced myself and we talked for a while. Soon another man was brought in with a severely damaged foot, the result of an industrial accident. So I talked with him for a while. Soon the three of us were having a great time talking and joking with one another.
The doctors took good care of all three of us. They put my leg in a cast. They called my wife and she came and brought me home. The next day, late in the afternoon, all twenty-five men from the retreat came to the house to bring me my personal belongings and to see what had happened to me. I told them the story. And I then said, “I feel so stupid. I would like to personally thank that young man who helped me, but I neglected to ask him for his name. Did any of you get the name of the young man who was there?” Unanimously they all said, “There was no young man there.” I said, “Yes there was. He told me he was there with his father.” And they repeated, “There was no young man there”. When the full implication of their words hit me and I realized what had happened, I was speechless and I felt very humble.
In my own self-centered mind, I had assumed that God had sent me to that hospital, for the benefit of someone else; to meet and to talk with someone there. However, I now believe that what God actually wanted was for me to get to know Him better; to get to know and experience the special love and care that He has, not only for me, but for all of His children.
I cannot comprehend anything in this world that could possibly be more valuable than the actual dwelling place of God. Yet Paul reminds us, in today’s second reading, that each and every one of us is a Temple of God. His spirit abides within each and every one of us.
While that young man was helping me to get out of those woods thirty-three years ago, I was so preoccupied with my own situation that I didn’t even ask him for his name. To this day, I still chastise myself for being so shortsighted and self-centered. That is one event in my life that I would dearly love to do over again. If it were possible for me to live that moment over again, I would certainly have many more questions in addition to – what’s your name. But that event will always serve to remind me that we are never truly alone. Our Heavenly Father loves each and every one of us, his children, more that we can ever possibly understand. And our God is always with us.
When I was a child, I went to a Catholic grade school; and I remember the nuns telling us that we each had a guardian angel to watch over us and protect us. Prior to that incident thirty-three years ago, I don’t think that I ever truly understood or accepted that teaching. But as I grew older, God blessed me with a family of my own. And as all parents know, we do everything in our power to nurture and protect our young children. Then, as our children grow and venture out into the world on their own, it is terribly difficult for us to let go. We want to be there for them always. And it pains us deeply when we learn that we cannot always protect them from the dangers and evils in our world. But Scripture tells us that God is love. And Jesus taught us to know God as our Heavenly Father. I now know and understand that our Heavenly Father’s love for His children is so great that He has, in fact, provided a guardian angel to watch over and protect each and every one of His children.
When we come to understand that every person alive on this earth is a child of God, we come to a deeper appreciation of Jesus words (Mt 5:44) when He said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” for we are all sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
We must always remember Paul’s statement, “Do you not know that you are the Temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” We are never alone. Our God is always with us, and each and every one of us is truly a treasure beyond measure.