Sacred Spaces of Prayer

Written by Sr. Rosemary Finnegan, O.P.
Readings from:

It took 7 years to build and 200,000 laborers to work on it.  I’m referring to the Temple that Solomon built around 950 BC which was the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David.  It was a magnificent structure thought to be the finest building in the world at that time.  Of all Solomon’s accomplishments, and they were numerous, this Temple stands out above all the rest.  He wanted a place suitable for God to dwell. It was a place of prayer and reconciliation for the Israelites, and for foreigners, of Israel. What we heard in the first reading was Solomon’s most eloquent and beautiful prayer that he said when this breathtaking Temple was dedicated.  His prayer points out the paradox that God who lives in the heavens cannot really be contained within a single building.

Today we also celebrate another sacred site, the Shrine in Lourdes, France, where Our Lady appeared to young Bernadette Soubirous on Feb. 11, 1858.  Bernadette was a sickly child whose family was very poor and scarcely practiced their Catholic faith.  Our Blessed Mother identified herself to Bernadette as the “Immaculate Conception”, a doctrine that was declared just 3 years earlier by Pope Pius IX.  Mary asked for penance and prayer for the conversion of sinners, and instructed Bernadette to dig in the dry ground near the grotto where she stood.  From that ground a spring of water flowed forth that, to this day, is still used for the healing baths by the pilgrims to Lourdes.  Through the intercession of Mary, Lourdes has become a powerful place of prayer, healing and renewal of faith for all who visit there.

So here are two very different places of prayer built to the One God…a magnificent Temple in Jerusalem and, initially, a simple sacred Grotto in a little village called Lourdes.  Both were built  primarily to glorify God and to bring us to our knees in penitential prayer to the Almighty.  Solomon reminds us that, as elaborate as our beautiful churches are, even the highest heavens cannot contain our God.

And yet, God wants us to know that God is everywhere, in everyone, in all the world around us, but most especially, in the sacred space of each person’s heart.  The real building takes place in our hearts as we grow in our relationship with God through prayer.  St. Bernadette, who suffered most of her life not only from physical pain but from people who ridiculed and questioned her visions of Mary, died at age 35.  But this was her prayer, a prayer that surely shows her loving relationship with the Almighty:

“My Jesus, fill my heart with so much love that one day it will break just to be with you. My Jesus, you know I have placed you as a seal on my heart. Remain there always.”