Zeal for God's house
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 3rd SUNDAY OF LENT, March 7, 2021:
I want to invite you to think about a simple question today. Why was this church built? There are a couple of ways to answer that question. Historically, our Church is very important. St. Mary’s Cathedral is the oldest church in the Fall River diocese – so from Attleboro to Nantucket, this is the oldest church. It was built in 1852 replacing a small wooden church – St. John the Baptist – which also once stood on this site. That church was built in the late 1830s. This one was built because of the growing number of immigrant millworkers coming to Fall River. The community needed a church that could hold 1,200 people. Currently we hold 800, but the balcony at the back used to extend all the way around to the front. Later, in 1904, when our diocese broke away from the Diocese of Providence to become the Diocese of Fall River, this church took on another notable role becoming the Cathedral Church of the then-new diocese.
So, history is one answer to the question of why this church was built. But, there is also another answer the spiritual reason – this church was built to be a temple. Every Catholic church was built to be more than a merely ordinary space. This isn’t a meeting place or an auditorium or a theater where we go to see a play or a concert. A temple is a building that is built for a singular and unique purpose – to immerse us in the drama of our relationship with God. And, notice that I said “our relationship with God,” not “my” or “your” relationship with God. Because while we may come here for private prayer from time-to-time, the main reason for this building is to serve as the place where we come to meet God in Word and Sacrament to be formed once again into members of His family. It is a unique place of real encounter with the living God.
A temple is, of course, a building dedicated to God. But it's more than that. It's a sacred space, a space unlike all others and one where we enter so that we can be truly present with our God. A temple is God's house; a place where we can be together with God. God is really and truly present here; as this is His house. The flickering red candle with its eternal flame always burning is a signal telling us that the Eternal One dwells here, in this place.
And, it is because of that real dwelling of God that we act differently here than we do everywhere else. Have you ever thought about that? We have a whole set of rules and customs and behaviors that we do only here. We enter with a spirit of prayerful silence. We genuflect to the Presence of Christ dwelling in the tabernacle. Men remove their hats. We dress respectfully. We bless ourselves with holy water, and make the sign of the Cross. We stand and kneel and bow and show a special reverence that says we know that God dwells here and we have come here to worship Him. We act differently here than any other of the many places we go to.
And this brings us to our Gospel today. Today’s passage is the only recorded angry outburst of Jesus in Scripture. What explains the anger we see today as Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables and drove them out the Jerusalem Temple? The Gospel gave us the answer, “Zeal for [God’s] house will consume me.” In today’s passage, Jesus found the Temple being treated like a shopping center or a bank. Jesus viewed this as an insult to God – treating God’s dwelling place differently than the sacred space it is meant to be. And how right Jesus is. I’m sure we, too, would react the same if our church were being used in a way that somehow insulted God.
But, there is something more to this passage today as well. The Jerusalem Temple was not the only temple. This Church – any Church – are not the only structures where God dwells. In His resurrection, Jesus reminded us that each of us, too, is a temple. That, through our baptism, through Confirmation, through each and every Eucharist, God dwells in us. Each one of us here is a Temple of the Holy Spirit; a dwelling of God’s presence. Each one of us here was brought into being and designed by God for the purpose of making Him present to others, especially when they encounter us – believers in Jesus. Each one of us is a walking, talking, living, breathing temple of God’s presence through which we are meant to make God present to others. We receive the living Body of Jesus in Holy Communion so that God might dwell within us. Here we become what we truly are - the living stones of God's temple here on earth.
Remember what was said of the early followers, “See how these Christians love one another.” As living Temples of the Holy Spirit; Temples of the Presence of God, we are meant to be visibly different in the world – different in a way that makes others feel as though they have encountered something of God when they meet one of His followers; when they meet us. And if we treat this building – these stones and windows – different than we treat other buildings; then the same should be true of the Temple of our bodies. Do we treat our own bodies – by what we say, what we do, the things we engage in – do we treat this temple, our personal temple, with the reverence that it deserves?
”Zeal for [God’s] house will consume us.” The fundamental question for each of us today is simply this: What sort of Temple am I? Am I a Temple of God that would find favor with Jesus? The answer to that question is what Lent is all about. Lent is given to us each year so that we might examine and perhaps change what is inside of us that keeps us from being a truly holy Temple.
My friends, as you receive Holy Communion today – God’s true and abiding presence – welcome that same living God into the Temple that is you once again. Let zeal for God’s Temple that is you consume you and be renewed this Lent.
May the Lord give you peace.
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