Becoming Houses of Prayer through God’s Mercy and Word, 33rd Friday (II), November 18, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne
November 18, 2016
Rev 10:8-11, Ps 119, Lk 19:45-48

 

To listen to a recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted during the homily: 

  • Today, as we approach the end of the Jubilee of Mercy, we have summarized for us in the readings today two crucial aspects of their year. First, the Lord’s desire to cleanse us, to purify us, through his merciful love, something we see in his cleansing of the Temple. Second, we see how the Lord out of love wants to fill us with everything we need so that we can become a temple, a “house of prayer,” a dwelling place for God, by helping us to hang on his word, to devour it, so that we can become living commentaries of it. The Lord is constantly seeking our conversion and holiness and it’s important for us to review these themes as the year comes to a close.
  • In today’s Gospel, we encounter a Jesus with whom many, especially today, are unfamiliar. The same Jesus whom Isaiah prophesied would “not break a bruised reed nor quench a smoldering wick” (Is 42:3), the same Jesus whom the psalms would call “kind and merciful” (Ps 145:8) the same Jesus who called himself “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29) started to overturn tables, tossing money on the floor, and making a whip of cords to drive the sheep and the cattle out of the temple. And there is no contradiction between the image of Jesus as the kind, merciful friend of sinners and Jesus as consumed with zeal for his Father’s house, because out of love for sinners and his Father, he both really loved sinners and really the hated sin that can kill sinners. Jesus’ mercy does not baptize our sin and indulgence, but rather seeks to take it out at its root. The word St. Luke uses to describe how Jesus “drove out” the animals is ekballein, the same verb used when e did exorcisms. Jesus wants to exorcise whatever in us is not fit for  God. The Temple in Jerusalem, built in order to be the dwelling place of God on earth, constructed to be a place of encountering God in prayer, had become something very different by Jesus’ time. It wasn’t so much the fact that animals were being sold and money exchanged in the temple precincts that bothered Jesus. It was two things associated with this selling of animals and exchanging money: The first was that the moneychangers and animal sellers were tremendously overcharging the people. The temple had become a “den of thieves.” When people came to the temple, they needed to sacrifice an animal to God, the size and value of the animal being determined by their personal means and the type of sacrifice being made. Rather than carry an animal with them for the many miles’ uphill walk to the temple — which was too much of a burden — most would buy one at the temple. But because there was such a demand, especially at the time of the Passover, the merchants had the market to drastically overcharge the people who needed the animals. Others who would try to save money by bringing an animal of their own often had to get the animals inspected by Temple officials who needed to verify that the animals they had brought were unblemished, as the Mosaic law stipulated. These inspectors often were on the take of the animal sellers to find blemishes that weren’t there and disqualify the affected animals. The poor who had saved their money over the course of the whole year for the trip to the temple, therefore, one way or the other, had to pay these enormous prices. While they were there, they also had to pay a temple tax, which needed to be given in one of two types of acceptable Temple currencies. That meant that most everyone had to exchange money and the moneychangers could take an exorbitant commission, which again penalized the poor most of all. Jesus was outraged that people were coming into the temple to rip off the poor. That was the first thing that incensed the Lord. The second was worse. The Jewish mentality had become so distorted over the centuries that they began to look at their relationship with God as something contractual or even magical. “As long as I sacrifice this animal to God,” they began to think to themselves, “everything will be all right. God will be happy.” Too many people had started to look at the temple as the place to go “bribe” God with their animal sacrifices. They had started to look at God as someone who needed to be “bought” by these gifts. God had said many times through the prophets, “It is a contrite heart I seek, not animal sacrifices,” but they hadn’t gotten the picture. So Jesus gave them all a lesson they would never forget — and we would never forget. Jesus wanted to return first the temple and then the people to the true worship of God. He wanted the temple to be a place of prayer, to be His Father’s House once again, and wanted the people to recover a real notion of what their relationship with the Father should be based on — a contrite, merciful and loving heart.
  • But every time we talk about the Temple, we need to remember that the Temple in Jerusalem was just a precursor of the Temple who would be Jesus’ humanity, the “true Temple,” which he said in St. John’s Gospel during the scene of the cleansing of the Temple would be destroyed and rebuilt on the third day. And Jesus’ salvific will was to incorporate us into himself as the Temple, as St. Paul would highlight in his letters calling us, individually and collectively, the Temple of God and summoning us to glorify God in our bodies. As a Temple, we are to worship God, to be “houses of prayer,” and places where the Word of God resonates. That’s what we see in the other part of today’s Gospel. St. Luke tells us, “Every day [Jesus] was teaching in the temple area.” Every day Jesus teaches us, in the Gospel at Mass, in the Liturgy of the Hours, in our prayerful lectio divina of Sacred Scripture, in the homily, in others’ words, in the encounters of the day, and other aspects of our life where the Holy Spirit seeks to help us remember everything Jesus taught and continues to teach. And we see in the Gospel what our response needs to be: The evangelist tells us, “All the people were hanging on his words.” As houses of prayer, we’re called to hang on everything Jesus says, to build our life on his words of eternal life, to grasp that we live on every word that comes from his mouth, and not to let any word — even the “the” — drop to the ground just like we wouldn’t even let the smallest particle of the Eucharist do so.
  • Ultimately we’re called to allow the Word of God to take on our flesh, just as Mary did. That’s what today’s first reading is about. Fulfilling the prophetic image of Ezekiel 3, when God said to his prophet, “Son of man, eat what is before you; eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel. … Feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you” and Ezekiel said, “I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth” and then God sent him to proclaim that word to the House of Israel, so today St. John is told, “Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel who is standing on the sea and on the land,” and when he did, the Angel said, “Take and swallow it. It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will taste as sweet as honey.” And that’s what happened. “I took the small scroll from the angel’s hand and swallowed it. In my mouth it was like sweet honey, but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.” And then someone said to him, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.” In this we see various lessons about our approach. We’re supposed to become what we eat, to become existential exegetes. Second, we’re called to recognize the sweetness of God’s words as we taste them, what led us in the Psalm to pray, “How sweet to my taste is your promise! In the way of your decrees I rejoice, as much as in all riches. Yes, your decrees are my delight; they are my counselors. The law of your mouth is to me more precious than thousands of gold and silver pieces. How sweet to my palate are your promises, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Your decrees are my inheritance forever; the joy of my heart they are. I gasp with open mouth in my yearning for your commands.” Third, we’re going to recognize that when we interiorize the word, it may upset us, first because it’s calling us to conversion, and second often moving us to do things that according to our humanity we might shirk from doing, like announcing it as medicine to others who might not want to take that remedy. But the word we hear and ingest is a word to be done and proclaimed; sometimes that won’t be pleasant and God wants us to know that ahead of time, while at the same times it has the power to amputate sin and restore us to wholeness.
  • Today we celebrate the feast of a saint who shows us what it means to be a Temple of God’s presence, a life of prayer, someone who heard the word in a consequential way and at great sacrifice went to announce it in difficulty half way across the world. St. Rose Philippine Duchesne was born to a wealthy family in France; her father was a banker and businessman and her mother part of a family that eventually produced a French president. After having been educated by the Visitation nuns, she wanted to join them, but her father wanted her to enter into a fitting marriage, and so she needed to run away. The French Revolution closed her convent and after trying to reestablish it, she joined St. Madeleine Sophie Barat in the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and eventually accepted a mission to come to the United States, in Jesus’ name, to invest the gift of her faith in the fruitful soil of a new continent. She was willing, like so man of the explorers, to take the faith far afield and lower her nets for a catch. At the age of 49, with five other sisters, she embarked on a grueling 20-week journey across the Atlantic and up the Mississippi River. Rose was sick the entire voyage and twice was near death, but she soldiered on until they arrived in St. Louis. The bishop established them in St. Charles and gave them a one-room log cabin, which they used to found a school for poor children, the first free school west of the Mississippi. Thus began 34 years of missionary toil in brutal conditions. The sisters needed to battle cold, hunger, sickness and deprivation, not to mention opposition to their French teaching methods, ingratitude and even calumny. “Poverty and Christian heroism are here,” she wrote succinctly back to the motherhouse, “and trials are the riches in this land.” About the calumny, she joked, “They say everything about us, except that we poison the children.” All of these crosses, however, served merely to prove and magnify her Christian virtue, and to spur her to share with children and fellow sisters the sweetness of a life in conformity with God’s word. Vocations from among her students started to come in large numbers and she was able to establish new houses, schools and orphanages in Florissant, Grand Côteau, New Orleans, St. Louis and St. Michael. As hard as she was working among the settlers in the frontier, she longed to bring the Gospel to the Indians, so that they would taste its sweetness as well. She got her wish when she was 72. By this point, she had become ill enough that she had asked to step down as superior. When a request came in from the famous Jesuit missionary Fr. Pierre-Jean De Smet to help establish a school for the Patawatomi in Sugar Creek, Kansas, she volunteered to go. Her fellow sisters wanted to prevent her from the difficult work in her frail condition, but not only did she insist on going but so did Fr. De Smet. “She must come,” the black-robed apostle demanded. “She may not be able to do much work, but she will assure success to the mission by praying for us. Her very presence will draw down all manner of heavenly favors on the work.” That’s precisely what she did and what happened. It had been hard enough for her to learn English upon coming to America at about the age of 50. It was near impossible for her to learn the Indian dialect, but she did the best she could to teach the young Indian girls about Jesus. What she couldn’t convey in words, she conveyed in action. She spent most of her days and nights on her knees in prayer before Jesus in the Eucharist, which taught the Indians more about the real presence of Christ than hundreds of catechism classes. Once, young squaws placed small pieces of paper on the back of her habit to see if she’d move during the night and go to bed. They came back in the morning and the pieces of paper were exactly where they had placed them. So moved were they by her example that they gave her a precise nickname: Quah-hak-ka-num-ad, “the woman who always prays.” Her prayers led to many conversions. She showed them what a Temple of God does. Would that people be able to call each of you, Sisters, “Quah-hak-ka-num-ad,” because you, too, are a person who prays always, prays here in the Chapel, prays your work, prays even your sleep. She’s called a saint today because she was filled with God’s holiness, which is exactly Jesus’ plan in coming into the world and saving us by his mercy.
  • At the beginning of every Mass Jesus seeks to drive from us whatever is unfit for worship, all our spiritual worldliness, all our manipulation of religion for purposes other than God’s glory and then to fill us with his word, help us to hang on it, ingest it, be transformed by it, and pass it on to others enfleshed. Today God doesn’t give us a scroll and tell us to twice to take it and eat it — pointing to our zealous cooperation with his plan — but he gives us his body and blood and says, “Take and eat. … Take and drink.” Let us imitate Ezekiel, John, Rose Philippine and Mary, in taking and tasting the Lord’s promise and fulfillment and receiving God into the Temple he mercifully redeemed us to be.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 RV 10:8-11

I, John, heard a voice from heaven speak to me.
Then the voice spoke to me and said:
“Go, take the scroll that lies open in the hand of the angel
who is standing on the sea and on the land.”
So I went up to the angel and told him to give me the small scroll.
He said to me, “Take and swallow it.
It will turn your stomach sour,
but in your mouth it will taste as sweet as honey.”
I took the small scroll from the angel’s hand and swallowed it.
In my mouth it was like sweet honey,
but when I had eaten it, my stomach turned sour.
Then someone said to me, “You must prophesy again
about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 119:14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131

R. (103a) How sweet to my taste is your promise!
In the way of your decrees I rejoice,
as much as in all riches.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
Yes, your decrees are my delight;
they are my counselors.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
The law of your mouth is to me more precious
than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
How sweet to my palate are your promises,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
Your decrees are my inheritance forever;
the joy of my heart they are.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!
I gasp with open mouth
in my yearning for your commands.
R. How sweet to my taste is your promise!

Alleluia JN 10:27

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 19:45-48

Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out
those who were selling things, saying to them,
“It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer,
but you have made it a den of thieves.

And every day he was teaching in the temple area.
The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people, meanwhile,
were seeking to put him to death,
but they could find no way to accomplish their purpose
because all the people were hanging on his words.

 

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