In our Gospel today, Jesus cleanses the temple in Jerusalem. His actions and words betray his fundamental concern - that the temple be used for its intended purpose, being house of prayer. While there are passages dealing with areas of physical health, how much more our Lord is concerned with what we put in our soul. The cleansing here speaks of more than just the Jerusalem center of worship. The temple of our body is obviously much more important than anything made out of blocks and boards. The psalmist writes, "We are fearfully and wonderfully made."
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Mayor Bloomberg has been in the news a lot in the last few years. He wants to be sure his city doesn't get fat. New York has had a ban on trans-fat since 2006 and recently instituted a ban on sugary soft drinks that are larger than 16 ounces.
His latest crusade targets hospitals, which involves removing candy from vending machines and deep fried food from their cafeterias. Certainly, we can see that the mayor wants to make sure the citizens of the Big Apple take care of the temple of their body.
How ironic that the city's soul is not also a target for healthy food. Such annual attractions as Folsum Street East, where every kind of fetish, homo-erotic and perverse behavior is exhibited, underscore a contrary commitment. While New Yorkers are restricted in what they take into their bodies, they are free to do whatever they want with them!
In our Gospel today, Jesus cleanses the temple in Jerusalem. His actions and words betray his fundamental concern - that the temple be used for its intended purpose, being house of prayer.
While there are passages dealing with areas of physical health, how much more our Lord is concerned with what we put in our soul. The cleansing here speaks of more than just the Jerusalem center of worship. The temple of our body is obviously much more important than anything made out of blocks and boards. The psalmist writes, "We are fearfully and wonderfully made."
As we approach Advent, we are coming into a season of preparation; what the Eastern Churches call a "Little Lent." This is a time of self-examination and repentance in preparation for two major events - the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord and the Second Coming. This is why Advent is often called the "Season of the Already-Not Yet."
We are living in between these two events of earth-changing import. While the size of our sodas can make a temporal difference to some extent, how much more our soul needs a great deal of scrutiny. St. Paul told his son-in-the-faith Timothy, "While physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future."
Advent is a good time for a good personal temple-cleansing.
In Jerusalem, our Lord was quite thorough about this. St. Luke states that "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.'" (Lk. 19:45,46)
St. Matthew's Gospel goes into a bit more detail saying, "Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And he said to them, "It is written: 'My house shall be a house of prayer,' but you are making it a den of thieves." The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them." (Mt. 21:12-14)
If Jesus is Lord of your life, He must be Lord of your temple.
Obviously, this cleansing was not a case where Jesus felt that he just needed to quietly ask the "poachers" to leave. He overturned tables, drove out those engaged in unauthorized activities and generally caused a huge uproar. The chief priests, scribes and other leaders already had His death as their major goal by this point. This, then, had added insult to injury.
The presence of money changers and sellers of sacrifice was not only improper; it had also become too familiar! No one seemed to take issue with their presence, which in itself is a bit disconcerting. The meaning of the temple had been compromised.
If you are like me, there are familiar places of compromise in my personal temple. As a temple of the Holy Spirit - a descriptive given to us by St. Paul - I should also see myself primarily as a house of prayer. a house given to the Lord.
Pope Benedict underscored this as the root of our Lord's actions in his second volume of "Jesus of Nazareth."
"According to his own testimony," the Holy Father writes, "this fundamental purpose is what lies behind the cleansing of the Temple: to remove whatever obstacles there may be to the common recognition and worship of God - and thereby to open up a space for common worship."
Compromises are easy to spot, especially when we have something to which they can be compared. Again, Paul to the rescue with a list:
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil 4:7)
Given the variety of gates into the soul - particularly through the eyes and ears - this list is compromised over and other again, especially in our world of media saturation.
The computer, in particular, has raised the stakes considerably when it comes to purity. Folsum East type of experience needs no block party. Perversion and pornography are only a keystroke away.
Do what you did at first
In these last days of Ordinary time, the Daily Mass readings have given us an opportunity to read someone else's mail - the seven churches of Revelation. One letter in particular - the one to the Church in Ephesus - shares some rather startling insight: they had lost their first love.
Jesus had made it clear that they were keeping the externals of the church in order and were preventing false prophets from invading. Yet they had abandoned the intimacy of relationship which is the reason they were gathered together in the first place. While the Church may not have included a den of thieves it may not have truly been a house of prayer.
I love the remedy that our Lord gives the Ephesians - "do the things you did at first." Just like any stalled relationship, it is time to re-kindle the old flames that first ignited within the Ephesian believers toward their Lord and Savior. It's time to return to the simple things that enabled me to get to know Him intimately.
Many years ago I heard a story about the famous Protestant theologian Karl Barth, who was asked, during a lecture tour of the United States, to summarize what was contained in his four-volume masterpiece, "Church Dogmatics." His answer came almost immediately, "Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so."
How often we try to complicate our relation with God. We add too many components and getting lost in the doing. Normally, a simple re-building of the basics is the best direction.
For example, Advent is a great time to hold a good examination of conscience, followed by the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Be ruthless in looking at yourself. What is in you that is not pleasing to God? Find a good tool for this examination and then make a good confession.
I would also suggest you dust off your Bible and dig back into those wondrous pages, especially the Gospels where you can again learn about Him. It's a great time to read the Infant Narratives of St. Luke's Gospel or daily read through the Gospel of St. John.
Have you fallen off on your disciplines of daily prayer? Simply pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get back on track. Time in the morning sets a great direction for the day and prayer in the evening settles the heart and mind for restful sleep.
Setting a schedule for daily prayer can be well supported by using the Liturgy of the Hours or one of its leaner companions, Christian Prayer or Shorter Christian Prayer. Other great resources, such as "Magnificat" also do a wonderful job aiding our journey.
This is also good time in the Christian year (although anytime is a good time.) to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. If your parish has a specific time for Adoration, all the better! Many parishes also have perpetual adoration chapels that give you opportunity to spend an extended amount of time in prayer and contemplation.
Time the open the door of your heart
In the mid-1950's a Presbyterian minister by the name of Robert Boyd Munger wrote a little booklet entitled "My Heart Christ's Home." This timeless tract has been an inspiration to Christians from all confessions, encouraging them to invite Christ to examine every room in their heart.
From the Library, where we offer to Christ all that we are reading and taking in through the media, He travels to the Dining Room, to see what our appetites savor - the accomplishments and notices of this world. Also there are visits to the Living Room, Work Room and Rec Room, as He is offered a complete tour of the heart He inhabits.
Then comes the Hall Closet. There we keep our most private and secret things behind lock and key. Munger writes that a particularly bad odor is emanating from the other side of the door. Our Lord wants to deal with the secret sins we share with no one but cause our walk to remain stalled and "stinky."
In this little booklet, not only does our Lord want a tour, He wants the title! He wants to ability to clean up the rooms, throw out what is not pleasing to Him and replenish with those things in Paul's list from Philippians we quoted earlier.
Pope Benedict XVI begins his apostolic letter, "Porta Fidei," regarding the Year of Faith we have just entered, with the following words: "The 'door of faith' (Acts 14:27) is always open for us, ushering us into the life of communion with God and offering entry into his Church. It is possible to cross that threshold when the word of God is proclaimed and the heart allows itself to be shaped by transforming grace."
We have a lot of doors in front of us now. This is the season to throw open the door of our heart, letting our Lord cleanse us of those things which keep us distant from Him.
Having allowed Him to purify us, we not only can walk through the door of faith into the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity, but also into everyday life. We will be able to live the Gospel out loud before the world, which desperately needs to see His love in action.
Father Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and a priest with the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (http://usordinariate.org) established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus."
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