Homily for Mass – Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa
Saturday 10 March 2012 – 4.15pm
[Ex 20:1-17; Ps 19; 1 Cor 1:18, 22-25; Jn 2:13-25]
When we first look at the scene of Jesus cleansing the Temple, we can understand his righteous anger. Things were being done in the Temple that shouldn’t be done: a place for prayer had become a place for buying and selling, a place for making a profit. The Father’s house had become a marketplace.
The action of Jesus has a deeper significance also. His dramatic gesture is also declaring that the time has come for a new kind of worship. The worship that necessitated the sale of animals for the various offerings that were made in the Temple – that kind of worship was coming to an end. It was to be replaced by worship that is truly worthy of God … a worship based in the person of Jesus himself. A worship centered on his body which is the new temple. All that is not worthy of this new worship had to be removed.
Obviously, that age of temple sacrifices is over. There are no sheep, cattle and doves being sold at the back of the cathedral! We participate in the worship of God through, with and in Jesus. He is the lamb of sacrifice. Our worship is centred on him. We, his living body, join with him as he offers the sacrifice of his life to the Father. We are caught up in that offering such that we ourselves are lifted up to the Father by Christ in his offering. The temple of his body, which was destroyed and raised again after three days – that body he continues to give to us as our spiritual food.
But as we reflect on the Gospel, we’re prompted to ask ourselves: is our worship worthy? Are we coming to God in the way that Jesus wants. We may not have turned the Church into a marketplace, but at the same time, is the “temple of our heart” filled with things that shouldn’t be there? – things that are unbecoming of a disciple of Jesus?
If we need any reminder of things that are unbecoming in the “temple of our heart” – things that are unworthy as people called to worship God in spirit and truth in the manner Jesus has given us – our first reading – the Ten Commandments – gives us plenty to reflect on. Let’s just recap their contents.
The text begins by calling to mind what God has done for his people: freeing them from slavery. The law, therefore, is based on the relationship that God has established with his people: the law flows from this relationship. So God is first: nothing is to be put in the place – in our lives – that should be occupied by God. His Name is to be kept holy, and because of the relationship we have with Him, one day in the week is to be kept as a day especially dedicated to Him: the Lord’s Day. The Christian Church has made the day of Christ’s resurrection the Lord’s Day. Our Lord’s Day worship at Mass helps to fulfill the obligation God has given us to make one day of every week specially dedicated to Him.
Flowing from our relationship with God, then, is our relationship with others. First, we are enjoined to honour our parents. Then three commandments that “tersely forbid murder, adultery and theft.” And then three commandments giving further instructions about our relationships with “our neighbour”: we are not to “connive or deprive another of his or her reputation, spouse or any possession that is rightfully theirs” ” (Archbishop Terrence Prendergast SJ, Living God’s Word: Reflections on the Sunday Readings for Year B, Toronto, Novalis, 2011, p. 70).
The Ten Commandments have profoundly shaped the Jewish faith, and have been brought into the Christian tradition. Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it (Mt 5:17). Moreover, Jesus has in fact “upped the ante” with the commandments, by saying that being angry with another has an equivalence to murder, and that looking lustfully at another is the same as committing adultery (Mt 5:20-48). He takes the commandments and enjoins on his disciples an even higher level of observance. Not only are the commandments NOT abolished, but they are to be observed to a deeper degree by Jesus’ followers.
We profitably examine our lives against the measure of the Ten Commandments and the words and actions of Jesus. And to the extent that there is – in the “temple of our hearts” – anything that is alien, Jesus wants to drive those things out. He wishes to cleanse our hearts of those things so that we can come to God freely and wholeheartedly, and experience that communion with the Father that Jesus himself enjoys.
As we prepare for Easter, Jesus speaks the call of conversion to us through his Church. Now is the favourable time to look at our lives and to be honest about those things in our lives that we know shouldn’t be there. Our Saviour wants to cleanse us of those things – and he’s waiting to do that most especially through the Sacrament of Penance. As he restored order to the Temple of Jerusalem and prepared for the worship belonging to his kingdom, Jesus desires to restore order to our lives and to prepare us to more fully unite with His Father in the Holy Spirit. When you come to God he will pour clean water upon you and cleanse you from all your impurities, and [He] will give you a new spirit (Entrance antiphon).
May the Lord give us courage, and help us to respond to his call to conversion. May the Blessed Virgin, refuge of sinners and health of the sick, intercede for us.