Our Reconsecration by Christ through Prayer, the Moral Life and the Cross, Third Sunday of Lent (B), March 8, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
“The Graces All Catholics Should Receive from the Year for Consecrated Life”
Casa Maria of the Sister Servants of the Eternal Word, Irondale, AL
March 8, 2015
Ex 20:1-17, Ps 19, 1 Cor 1:22-25, Jn 2:13-25

 

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

 

The following text guided the homily: 

Becoming a Menorah

For seven years I had the joy of being pastor of what I’ve always believed — even before I was assigned there — was the most beautiful Catholic Church in all of New England, St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The architecture of the Church was designed by Joseph Venne, who built St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. The original interior decorator was the Italian genius Giovanni Castognoli. The painter of the vault and the designer and executor of the stained glass windows was another Italian master, Guido Nincheri. The combination between painting, stained glass, sculpture and architecture is something that the first time I entered the Church as a seminarian overwhelmed me to such a degree that I couldn’t help falling to my knees. After having served as a guide to so many of the Basilicas in Rome, I was overjoyed to have the privilege to lead many tours of the Church where I was pastor.

One of the central artistic elements inside St. Anthony’s was a series of rondi, of round paintings, found all over the Church. Over the pews in the nave, there were various rondi from the life of St. Anthony. Once we entered the sanctuary, the theme of the rondi was Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, as Guido Nincheri placed various prophetic and illustrative images of the source and summit of Christian life: grain and grapes, the pelican, the ark of the covenant, the Old Testament sacrifices, Melchisedek’s offering bread and wine, and Jesus’ taking bread and wine during the Last Supper. Over the exits in the transept there were two other images with which I would always finish the hour long tour. One was of a monstrance filled with the Eucharist, a clear sign that as Catholics were leaving Mass, they were supposed to recall that, having received Holy Communion, they were supposed to be living monstrances taking Christ out on a Corpus Christi procession across the streets of New Bedford on their way home. The other one was a menorah. When I would ask people why they thought there would be a menorah over the exit in counterpoint to the Monstrance, no one would really get the right answer. Some would say that it was a sign that Jesus was Jewish. Others would say, strangely, that it was an image of Christmas, because Hanukkah, for which the Menorah is the central symbol, often overlaps with the Advent or Christmas season. But when prodded most Catholics didn’t really know what Jews celebrate on Hanukkah so it was hard for them to identify the symbolic application to Catholics leaving Mass. The Menorah with its eight candles is a reminder of the eight days that Judas Maccabeus and his companions in the middle of the second century before Christ took to clean and rededicate the Temple of Jerusalem after Antiochus Epiphanes IV and his Greek pagans had desecrated it. It was placed there to help Catholics recall that every time they were leaving Mass they were supposed to have been rededicated to God, reconsecrated to his love and service, recommitted to the Covenant he had formed with them on the day of their baptism.

At this Mass we finish our retreat calling to mind that same lesson enshrined over the exit of St. Anthony’s and building upon it. Not just as this Sunday Mass but over the course of the last 40 hours, God has been seeking to renew us in our baptismal consecration, giving us the graces to cooperate in Jesus’ plan to reconsecrate us in the truth of his word, to give us a rebirth in the inner nature of our Christian calling and the striving of the Church toward union with Jesus the Bridegroom. Here at the concluding Mass of this retreat, Jesus wants to bring this work to perfection, but in order for it to happen, we need to allow him first to do in us what Judas Maccabeus did to the Temple in Jerusalem, to cleanse us and then we need to participate in the strengthening of our consecration by cooperating fully with three other crucial elements revealed in today’s readings. Jesus begged the Father to consecrate us in his word, knowing, as we sang in the Responsorial Psalm, that he has the words of everlasting life. Let’s enter together into that life-saving and life-giving word.

The Cleansing of the Temple

In today’s Gospel, we encounter a Jesus with whom many of us, 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.

What he was doing and its application to us can more easily be seen if we know two Greek words. The first is the word for “temple” or “temple area.” It’s to hieron, which is a neuter form of the word that means “consecrated.” The temple was called “the consecrated place,” the locus totally separated to allow people to come to be with God and filled with him so as to be able to return from there changed by God and capable of changing the world with God. The second word is ekballein, which is the word used to describe how Jesus “drove out” the animals. It’s the same verb used when Jesus did exorcisms and drove out the temple. When we see these two words, we can grasp better what Jesus wants to do in us: he wants to exorcise whatever in us is not fit for consecration to God. That’s how he gets us ready to be reconsecrated as we leave this retreat.

Let’s return to the scene. 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. 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.

The Prophet Malachi had described centuries before the purification Jesus would accomplish when he entered the Temple. We hear the passage often in Advent and Handel featured it prominently in his Messiah, but it is particularly appropriate to the Lenten cleansing Christ wants to give us: “And suddenly,” Malachi writes, “there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. … But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye. He will sit refining and purifying, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord. Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the Lord, as in days of old, as in years gone by.” Jesus came with fire to refine us, to bleach us, to make us new so that we can offer fitting sacrifice to the Lord, not the sacrifice of animals, but the oblation of ourselves in union with Christ.

Allowing Jesus to do in us what he did in the Temple precincts

When asked why he was doing what he was doing, Jesus pointed to another temple, the temple of his body, which he said would be destroyed but rebuilt in three days. This is the true temple, the true locus of divine worship, the authentic hieron, the genuine house of the Father. But Jesus’ plan for that rebuilt temple wasn’t coextensive with his flesh, but with his Mystical Body. His plan was to incorporate us into that Temple. When we’re baptized, when we’re consecrated in the womb of the Church and the saving waters, we enter and become part of that temple. We become members of Jesus’ body, and ourselves become dwelling places of God where Father, Son and Holy truly abide. This is what led St. Paul to say in his letter to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.” Our body and soul are a temple of the Holy Spirit, meant to be a holy dwelling place of God, where God speaks, is praised and glorified. This is the temple that Jesus wants to make sure is clean, a real house of prayer, a real place where God is adored.

The Church gives us this reading on the Third Sunday of Lent because Jesus wants to give this far more important temple than the one built by Herod — think about that for a moment, because it’s true! — a thorough cleaning. Zeal for us consumes him. He wants to drive out of our bodies and souls anything unfit for God. He wants to eliminate any sins. He wants to extirpate any of the seven capital vices, to purify us of all impurities. He does this out of love for God and love for us — and out of hatred and anger toward the sin that kills us and separates us from God. Our temples may not have money changers, but our hearts may value money more than we value God, as we put work above prayer or even above Mass, as we place our security in the material things of this world than we do in God’s providence. Our temples may not have sheep, cows and lambs, but we may live like animals, living according to our instincts and lower appetites, rather than living as conscious, mature, loving, self-disciplined sons and daughters of God. Jesus wants to clean us this Lent of everything that doesn’t belong in the temple we are or are supposed to be. He wants to drive out our materialism and unite us to his spiritual poverty so that we may treasure his kingdom. He wants to drive out our hedonism and unite us to his consecrated chastity so that we may indeed love God and others as he loves his Father and us. He wants to expel our radical individualism and idolatry of autonomy and bind us to his holy obedience so that we may together with him consecrated ourselves to the Father’s saving will in all things until death. But we need to allow him to do that work of purification with the refiner’s fire and fuller’s lye.

Pope Francis picked up on this theme of spiritual sanitizing earlier today in his Angelus meditation in St. Peter’s Square. Speaking of Jesus’ desire to decontaminate us of everything unworthy of God, Pope Francis probingly asked, as he is wont to do, “Do I allow to cleanse all the behaviors that are against God, against our neighbor, and against ourselves? … Do I allow Jesus to make my heart a little cleaner? … Jesus cleanses with tenderness, with mercy, with love. Mercy is the His way of cleansing. … Let us allow the Lord to enter with His mercy … to cleanse our hearts. The whip of Jesus is His mercy. Let us open to Him the gates so that He would make us a little cleaner.”

Deepening our Consecration by prayer, the moral life and yoking ourselves to Jesus on the Cross

That’s the first stage in our reconsecration, being thoroughly cleansed. But the reconsecration is not just a liberation from things unfit for God but also a positive, loving gift of ourselves to God and to his plans for our salvation and the salvation of the world. We see three ways that Jesus wants to strengthen us to live out our consecration in the readings today.

The first is by prayer. Instead of our temple being a den of thieves or any sins unworthy of the Lord, Jesus tells us in the Synoptic Gospels that he wants his Father’s house rather to be a “house of prayer.” As we discussed yesterday, prayer is the consecration of our time, our hearts and our desires to God. As we leave this retreat, Jesus wants us to grasp how central prayer is to our living out our consecration. Please don’t leave this retreat without a firm resolution about the quantity and quality of your prayer time. I would urge you, especially in Lent, to turn off the television and use the time you would normally waste adoring your high definition monitor to adore the living God in prayer.

The second means to live out and strengthen our reconsecration is in the moral life, in which we consecrate to God our life and all our choices. In the first reading, we encounter the Decalogue, which was the means that God gave to the Israelites in the desert to live out their consecration to God in keeping their end of the Covenant. Consecration is a separation from the worldly, from the purely mundane, to be with God and then together with God to carry out his will, and the Ten Commandments help us to do it. Jesus would say in the Gospel that “all the law and the prophets” — and the Ten Commandments is clearly the central part of the law — “hang on” the two commandments of loving God with all our mind, heart, soul and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The Ten Commandments are a commentary on love and on consecration. The first commandment shows us how to cut ourselves off from idols to be God’s. The second shows us how to sanctify our speech and images. The third how to consecrate the Lord’s day. The fourth shows us how to honor God through honoring the parents through whom he gave us life. The fifth shows us how to separate ourselves from the hatred that can lead to murder. The sixth and ninth illustrate how to cut ourselves off from the lust that leads us to consume others for our gratification. The seventh and tenth depict how to rejoice in what others have rather than covet or steal it, like the money changers would seek to take the money of the poor in the temple. And the eighth helps us to cut ourselves off from the diabolical temptation to enter under the standard of the “father of lies” by uniting ourselves with Christ who is the Truth incarnate. The Christian moral life, which has the Decalogue as its foundation, is a means of union with God, of living out and strengthening our consecration. Leaving this retreat is an opportunity for us to rededicate ourselves to this pathway of love.

The third and final means is the most challenging. It’s the way of the Cross. Jesus tells us very clearly that unless we deny ourselves, pick up our Cross daily and follow him along the path of self-death through self-sacrificial love, we cannot be his disciple. His prayer to the Father consecrating himself so that we may be consecrated in the truth is, as we pondered yesterday, a way of saying, “I sacrifice myself so that they may be consecrated/sacrificed in the truth.” To enter into his consecration, we must join him on the Cross. St. Paul is one who did so. He would say in his letter to the Christians in Galatia, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, because the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal 2:19-20). That’s what it means to live a consecrated life. But that type of consecrated existence with Jesus is countercultural and contradictory to modern expectations. St. Paul points to that in today’s second reading, where he says, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Christ crucified was a scandal to the Jews because the Messiah, the son of David the King, was supposed to kick out foreign powers not be executed by them on Calvary; he was a folly to Greeks because the Greeks believed the greatest wisdom was the knowledge how to stay alive, and Jesus was ignominiously assassinated in the most gruesome way possible. Neither couldn’t understand at all how the crucifixion was anything other than a colossal failure and foolishness; worse would be anyone who wants to unite himself to that imbecilic immolation. But St. Paul says to those who are called, Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God. Long after those who crucified him were rotting in tombs, Christ was alive and by his crucifixion had saved those who entered into his death from eternal death. Long after the wise Greeks who were Jesus’ contemporaries were forgotten, Jesus’ teachings not only remained but remained forever validated, because they showed the depth of God’s own love and how God can and does draw good out of evil, for, as St. Paul says, “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” It’s key for us to grasp that for us to enter into Jesus’ consecration we need to yoke ourselves to him on the Cross. Jesus said in St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” Jesus’ plan is to unite ourselves to him totally on the yoke of the Cross so that we can learn from him the sacrifice, the consecration, we need to come to be fully like him. He wants to give us the grace of that yoke as this retreat nears its completion, so that we can live out our consecration together with him in sacrificial love. Now’s the time to seize it.

Our Rededication

The same Jesus whose hands were tied a cord to drive out the money changers and were later nailed to a Cross to free us from our sins now extends those gloriously scarred risen hands to us and invites us to trust in him, to take his hands, to yoke ourselves to him, and to become with him a hieron, a consecrated abode of God, a holy Temple, a house of prayer, a place where his words of eternal life resonate and are put into action. Jesus is the power and wisdom of God and wants us to live by that power and wisdom. He’s given us a taste of it on this retreat. As we prepare to finish by entering into his consecration of himself for our sanctification in the consecration of the Mass,  let’s ask him for the grace to leave as Monstrances, as Menorahs, and as rededicated Temples of his glory!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 EX 20:1-17

In those days, God delivered all these commandments:
“I, the LORD, am your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
You shall not have other gods besides me.
You shall not carve idols for yourselves
in the shape of anything in the sky above
or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth;
you shall not bow down before them or worship them.
For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God,
inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness
on the children of those who hate me,
down to the third and fourth generation;
but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation
on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.“You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain.
For the LORD will not leave unpunished
the one who takes his name in vain.

“Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
Six days you may labor and do all your work,
but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God.
No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter,
or your male or female slave, or your beast,
or by the alien who lives with you.
In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth,
the sea and all that is in them;
but on the seventh day he rested.
That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother,
that you may have a long life in the land
which the LORD, your God, is giving you.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,
nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass,
nor anything else that belongs to him.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 19:8, 9, 10, 11

R. (John 6:68c) Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.
They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb.
R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

Reading 2 1 COR 1:22-25

Brothers and sisters:
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom,
but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom,
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Verse Before The Gospel JN 3:16

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.

Gospel JN 2:13-25

Since the Passover of the Jews was near,
Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves,
as well as the money changers seated there.
He made a whip out of cords
and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen,
and spilled the coins of the money changers
and overturned their tables,
and to those who sold doves he said,
“Take these out of here,
and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”
His disciples recalled the words of Scripture,
Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him,
“What sign can you show us for doing this?”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”
The Jews said,
“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,
and you will raise it up in three days?”
But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
Therefore, when he was raised from the dead,
his disciples remembered that he had said this,
and they came to believe the Scripture
and the word Jesus had spoken.

While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover,
many began to believe in his name
when they saw the signs he was doing.
But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all,
and did not need anyone to testify about human nature.
He himself understood it well.

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