The Reconsecration of our Temple, 33rd Friday (I), November 20, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Sacred Heart Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Friday of the 33rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year I
Votive Mass for Religious
November 20, 2015
1 Mc 4:36-37.52-59, 1 Chron 29:10-12, Lk 19:45-48

 

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

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • The Year of Consecrated Life is an occasion for us not just to ponder the meaning of Christ’s consecration and our participation in it through our baptism and the more intense form of living out our baptismal consecration in religious life or the priesthood, but it’s a propitious time for us to renew that reconsecration. That’s what today’s first reading helps us to do, with the description of the rededication of the altar of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabeus after it was desecrated by the Greek occupiers. For
  • 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 today’s Gospel, 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. And the way we rededicate ourselves to that Covenant, Nincheri’s image taught us, was through keeping the commandments, loving God and neighbor.
  • Jesus wants to bring the work he began in us on baptism to be deeply nourished this year, 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 once we’ve been cleansed to rededicate us to be his holy dwelling place as Judas did to the altar in 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” that St. John employs in his depiction of this scene. The first is 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.
  • And then once we’re cleansed we need to be filled with what God knows we need for worship, so that we can be a house of prayer. And that’s what we see in the latter half of today’s Gospel. Jesus taught in the temple area every day and “all the people were hanging on his words.” He wants his words to resonate within us as he seeks to incorporate us into him who is the true temple. Within the temple area some of the chief priests, scribes and leaders of the people were conspiring to murder him — they were conspiring in God’s house — but God wants us, letting our whole life developed according to God’s word, to be plotting to come alive in him and to help bring his risen life to the world, not by ending others lives but like Jesus giving our lives if need be so that others may have life to the full.
  • This reconsecration happens every day at Mass, as Jesus who consecrated himself for us so that we might be consecrated in the truth, seeks to involve us in the very act of consecration on the altar, so that we Bridegroom and Bride, Head and Body, might be offered as our logike latreia, our fitting worship, to the Father with zeal! And then, having been reconsecrated, we can leave the doors of this chapel as lit menorahs reminding the whole world of the need for a similar consecration so that the Light of Christ might burn within us and light the world ablaze.

 

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 1 MC 4:36-37, 52-59

Judas and his brothers said,
“Now that our enemies have been crushed,
let us go up to purify the sanctuary and rededicate it.”
So the whole army assembled, and went up to Mount Zion.
Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month,
that is, the month of Chislev,
in the year one hundred and forty-eight,
they arose and offered sacrifice according to the law
on the new altar of burnt offerings that they had made.
On the anniversary of the day on which the Gentiles had defiled it,
on that very day it was reconsecrated
with songs, harps, flutes, and cymbals.
All the people prostrated themselves and adored and praised Heaven,
who had given them success.For eight days they celebrated the dedication of the altar
and joyfully offered burnt offerings and sacrifices
of deliverance and praise.
They ornamented the facade of the temple with gold crowns and shields;
they repaired the gates and the priests’ chambers
and furnished them with doors.
There was great joy among the people
now that the disgrace of the Gentiles was removed.
Then Judas and his brothers and the entire congregation of Israel
decreed that the days of the dedication of the altar
should be observed with joy and gladness
on the anniversary every year for eight days,
from the twenty-fifth day of the month Chislev.

Responsorial Psalm 1 CHRONICLES 29:10BCD, 11ABC, 11D-12A, 12BCD

R. (13b) We praise your glorious name, O mighty God.
“Blessed may you be, O LORD,
God of Israel our father,
from eternity to eternity.”
R. We praise your glorious name, O mighty God.
“Yours, O LORD, are grandeur and power,
majesty, splendor, and glory.
For all in heaven and on earth is yours.”
R. We praise your glorious name, O mighty God.
“Yours, O LORD, is the sovereignty;
you are exalted as head over all.
Riches and honor are from you.”
R. We praise your glorious name, O mighty God.
“You have dominion over all,
In your hand are power and might;
it is yours to give grandeur and strength to all.”
R. We praise your glorious name, O mighty God.

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.
 S Vicente-2150