Monday, November 27, 2023

Robbing God of His Due: Homily for Friday of the Thirty-third week in Ordinary Time

"The Purification of the Temple", Raymond Balze, 1850.

‘“It is written,” He said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.”’

Anger, and outrage, are often the emotion we ascribe to Our Lord when we reflect on the episode of the cleansing of the Temple that forms part of our lectionary today. However, grief could well be the emotion that describes His emotion, especially since even in, or perhaps, especially in, contemporary times, we have turned his house, the house of prayer, into a den of thieves.

What have we stolen? I would suggest to you that it is the appropriateness of the worship that is due to Him that we have stolen from Him.

It is the first reading – from the first book of the Maccabees – that offers us a clue. A reading that speaks to us about the re-dedication of the temple, and the restoration not just of proper worship, but of dignity and nobility to the worship.

Appropriateness, dignity and nobility. These are the qualities we must bring to worship in his house of prayer.

“They… offered sacrifice according to the law”; how often do we offer Mass outside of the Missal.

“All the people prostrated themselves”; how often do we skip genuflection before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply bow.

“They ornamented the facade of the temple with gold crowns and shields”; how often are altar and church furnishings of cheap, synthetic materials, instead of precious natural materials and the best that we can offer?

And let me assure you that I am not speaking of the Beda, I am reflecting on my experience in locations across the world I have had the misfortune to worship in. Sunday Masses without incense, Eucharist treated casually, I could go on. (It does not need to be said that there are places where I have been edified by seeing worship worthily conducted.)

Every time we worship casually, instead of with appropriateness, dignity, and nobility, we rob our Lord of the worthy prayer that he merits.

However, bear in mind these words from the preface to Eucharistic prayer four:

              our praises add nothing to your greatness but profit us for salvation

When Christ said he would raise the temple in three days, he was referring to the temple of His own body, and so often the cleansing of the temple is understood as the cleansing we must make of our own bodies which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. As it turns out, therefore, when we offer prayers inappropriate to His dignity, or lacking in nobility or dignity, it is our own salvation which we compromise.

‘“It is written,” He said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.”’

(A version of this homily was first preached at the Pontifical Beda College on Nov 24, 2023)


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