What do you consider to be the worst event to have ever happened to Christianity?

How about Emperor Constantine's Edict of Milan in 313, whereby he legalized and tolerated Christianity; or the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 by Emperor Theodosius, who designated Christianity as the imperial religion?

With legalization and imperial approval, persecution of Christians stopped. We have never experienced, as our Syrian sisters and brothers have, persecution, torture, incarceration or being forced from our homes for solely being Christian.

More regretfully, with state assistance the Christian Church through the centuries began persecuting non-Christians and, eventually, Christians who believed differently. Have any of us ever paid a price for following Jesus?

With legalization and imperial support, we were given large public buildings called basilicas within which to carry out our liturgy. We came to equate the word "church" with a building, rather than a people -- and the bigger the building, the better, as Gothic spires reached for the skies.

Due to these edicts, we lost an essential part of who we are as followers of Jesus. How do we hear the question that St. Paul asks: "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit dwells in you?" The "you" is plural! We, gathered together, are the dwelling place of God, and this gathering is holy.

For too long, we have thought God dwells in church buildings and Jesus resides in locked tabernacles. Think of the reactions from Catholics when a church or school is closed: We have lost an essential part of who we are.

The Corinthians met in people's homes. They had no church buildings or institutions. They heard Paul's question very differently than us.

With legalization and imperial consent, we stopped being countercultural. We stopped challenging the evil structures of society and often sidled up too close to dictators, because we became part of the status quo.

Although the values of Christianity are the foundation of Western civilization and culture, Christianity, culture and patriotism are often equated as one and the same thing. We hear this in politicians' requisite, "God bless America," at the end of speeches. But is the God who is referred to the God of Israel, and of Jesus, who considers the wise and powerful of any age as fools?

Emperors Constantine and Theodosius did Christianity no favors. They were the catalyst that caused the edgy Gospel message to be diluted -- and, we have to ask, at what price? The price of the soul of Christianity?

There is an antidote to this history. Paul's letter to the Corinthian Church of the first century (1  Corinthians  3:16-23) opens much for us, in the 21st century, to contemplate.

What does the word "church" mean for you? Do we experience our bodies, our lives, our relationships, our gatherings as the dwelling place of God? Do we experience this gathering of people as the vehicle for our holiness and occasions for other people to be holy?

What is our priority as Christians? What does it mean to "belong to Christ?"

Remember, the Corinthian community was divided and made up of factions. Are we any less divided? Have we lost what it means to be the dwelling place of God as a community -- particularly in a society that emphasizes autonomy over community?

If we are called to holiness through and with this gathering of people, how do we treat each other? The Book of Leviticus and the Gospel (Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; Mt 5:38-48) offer an array of images: revenge...offering no resistance to evil done against us...hatred...being a fool...loving our enemy...the holding of grudges...only greeting and dealing with people who agree with us...praying for those who attack us. Which combination of these describes us? Are we participating in "being Church" or dividing Church?

All of these questions are about what it means to be holy, to be the dwelling place of God. As we enter Lent, might this be our spiritual agenda to reflect upon during the holy season?

(Father Mickiewicz is pastor of St. Mary's parish in Oneonta. This was his homily for Feb. 19, based on the readings for the seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time.)