This past Sunday we read and heard homilies about the cleansing of the Temple. My homily for the past Sunday is posted as my blog for that day. I focused on the issue of John’s use of this story and others like it to help us come to believe in Jesus. Quite honestly, I sometimes hesitate to preach about stories that display what some would call “God’s anger” with us simply because I don’t believe we should anthropomorphize God (invest God with human characteristics). While Jesus was human and does display various human emotions, I usually approach him as the embodiment or personification of God’s mercy.
However, I have also read Pope Francis’ homily for that day. I must admit that its focus captured my attention and imagination. Pope Francis reminded us that each of us is a Temple which has been sullied by money changers and livestock sales. Just as Jesus cleansed the Temple of Jerusalem, Jesus wants to cleanse us.
As I mentioned in my homily, the money changers and the livestock sellers performed a necessary function in the Temple precincts. Roman coins were not acceptable in the Temple because of the graven images on them. Oxen, sheep, goats and doves were needed for the sacrifices in the Temple. The problem was not in what they were doing. The problem lay in how and where they were doing it. The money changers were abusing their position by charging an exorbitant exchange rate, growing rich off the impoverished people. The livestock sellers should have located their stalls outside the inner courtyard rather than risk defiling the Temple. Jesus expels them from the Temple not because of what they were doing but because of how and where they were doing it.
Pope Francis challenged the people of Mater Redemptor parish to allow Jesus to cleanse the Temple of their souls. He likened us to the hypocrites of the Gospel who perform the outward acts of piety but who still live as “pagans,” people who don’t believe in God. He urged the people to allow Jesus into their Temple so that he could cleanse it with his mercy and forgiveness. God cannot forgive our sins if we don’t confess that we are sinners.
While I was in Naperville last week, I met a man who works in the building just east of St. Peter’s in the Loop. While he was familiar with the church, he was surprised to hear that confessions are heard at this particular church every weekday from 7:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. If one checks the parish bulletin of neighborhood churches, the Sacrament of Penance is offered for no more than an hour a week. However, it is the primary ministry of St. Peter’s in the Loop where the friars see to it that someone is in the confessional all day long. As I listened to the Holy Father’s homily this weekend, I could not help but think of all the “cleansing” that goes in this downtown setting during this Lenten Season.
The Pope also said, “You cannot fool Jesus.” In other words, you cannot hide your sins from Jesus. Each Lent I find myself praying for all those people who will finally avail themselves of the opportunity to confess their sins. Just last Friday when I was hearing confessions myself at St. Peter’s, one of the penitents commented that he was surprised to find someone in the confessional. When I told him that someone was there each weekday from seven in the morning to six in the evening, he was amazed. God’s mercy was at work in him that day. It is my prayer for you today as well.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator