Strange what thoughts, images, can be triggered by sound – or perhaps not so strange given we human beings are gifted with hearing and with sight, touch, memory, imagination!
As I was about to begin this meditation on the rest of St. John’s account of the cleansing of the Temple, bells for the noon Angelus began ringing from the nearby parish. I was taken back to my childhood, long before Vatican II, when churches were open 24/7, the bells rang not just three times daily for the Angelus, but also to summon people to Holy Mass, during the elevations at the consecration, peeling joyously at Christmas and Easter, singing out the news of His birth, His resurrection, yes tolling mournfully at funerals but peeling with joy at weddings.
Churches were adorned with stained glass windows, statues of saints, bells were rung by altar boys at various points during the Canon of the Mass, beautiful were the vestments worn, Benediction, Forty Hours devotion, processions such as at Corpus Christi, communal praying of the Rosary, and yes incense was used reminding us that our prayer does indeed rise to heaven.
Bishops, priests, religious brothers and sisters were all visible in clerical dress and various coloured habits, thus making, to borrow from Pope Francis, the field hospital of the Church visible so all can find Her and have refuge in Her and be well served.
But after Vatican II the temple of the Church, in chanceries and rectories, in seminaries, convents, monasteries, religious houses, indeed within the sacred space of liturgy, a type of money changers and sellers of not just doves but worldly philosophies and panderers of ‘my rights’ trumping everyone else’s began to crowd in – so bells were silenced, often by suddenly hyper-sensitive neighbours or sometimes local politicians with their ordinances, pressure was put on priests to not use incense because someone was allergic, etc., etc., and little by little the transcendence of liturgy, indeed of the interior space of churches – for gutting occurred and statues disappeared, vestments became bland, clergy and religious abandoned their colourful habits for street clothes and the church, the Body of Christ among the human family became if not increasingly invisible, certainly a harder to find reality.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. [Col. 2:8]
We have allowed ourselves to be taken captive and the unborn, the homeless, the elderly, the sick, the lonely, the stressed families, the seekers of Christ suffer mightily as a result.
There are many other ‘temples’ in our lives for we dwell within the temple of the cosmos on the sacred space of earth, itself a type of temple with its own moneychangers and sellers causing damage to the environment, exploiting the poor and workers, waging wars of terrorism with violence, or hatred, discrimination, and then there is all the chaos, and for some countries the corruption, of politics; there is the temple of our particular nation, city, village, family and primary among them all: the temple of our own personhood and body.
It is within the temple of self, the ‘I’ of our being, within which the, as it were ‘holy of holies’ is the garden enclosed within our soul: the point, the place of encounter and dialogue with Love Himself who has created us to be beloved.
Here, within the sacred space of our soul, our heart, our zeal for cleansing any temple must first begin, otherwise we will run off with a misguided self-righteousness disguised as zeal to cleanse other temples, when actually what we are doing is flight from self, from the truth or our own need for ever deeper cleansing of heart and soul.
This is part of responding to Jesus’ call that we become perfect as our Heavenly Father [cf. Mt.5:48] itself part of the great template for fullness of baptismal life found in the Sermon on the Mount.
Such cleansing/purification is offered by the Holy Spirit as the grace of metanoia/conversion of heart.
To repeat a pivotal verse: 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.” [15/16]
Recalling the account of the Woman Caught in Adultery, and Jesus’ compassion and declaring to the self-righteously zealous mob that they might exercise their furious zeal once the one ‘without sin’ cast the first stone [ cf. Jn.8:1-11] until we too achieve such purity of heart our zeal to cleanse the temples of society, government, etc., etc., must be tempered with discernment and authentic charity.
v. 17 - His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “ Zeal for your house will consume me.”
For us this zeal must be the very fire Christ brings to us with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, for it is the very fire of the Great Commandment to love one another as Jesus loves us. [cf. Lk. 12:49 & Jn. 15:12]
There are deep levels contained in Jesus’ word “….stop making My Father’s house a marketplace.”, which apply to our own lives before we can apply them to the Church, society, anyone else.
Yesterday I saw a young woman on the bus whose arms were marked with scars familiar to anyone who knows someone who self-harms. Sometimes it is simply heartbreaking to see what emotional damage, or addiction, abuse, does to the ‘temple’, the personhood of a fellow human being.
Here we can cleanse the temple before us by love and prayer and likewise pray intently for those who skills and vocation it is to help those among us who suffer mental, emotional, addiction problems, are victims of any form of abuse, discrimination, rejection, homelessness.
At the same time we need to ask why so many fill the temple of our beings interiorly with the marketplace of ‘words’ of the world, the culture of death and darkness, rather than daily with the life-giving words of the Sacred Scriptures, especially the Holy Gospel; we must too stop making our Father’s house of our being a marketplace of overindulgence, materialism, tattoos of unholy images, etc.
V.17 - His disciples recalled the words of scripture, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
Interiorizing this zeal will motivate greater charity towards self and others, confident prayer for our own and the conversion of the entire human family, recalling the confidence of the Psalmist: May my prayer be set before You like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. [ Ps. 141:2]
Vs. 18-23 - 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.
Here we have the crux of the matter, the point of the event in the external Temple of stone, for consistently St. John points both to the Cross, the crucifixion of Jesus and to Jesus’ Resurrection.
We can empathize with the disciples who followed Jesus throughout the three years of His public life, listened to His teachings, observed His power healing the sick, feeding the thousands, yet without fully understanding.
St. John himself, one of the very group of the disciples chosen indeed to be an apostle, here admits much remained as mystery until Jesus rose from the dead.
It is very important then that always when we meditate upon any passage of the Gospel we should always do so through the lens of Christ’s Resurrection.