3rd Sunday of Lent B

What was in man’s Heart

When Christ told the Samaritan woman at their first meeting that she had had five husbands and was living unmarried with a sixth, she was amazed. “Come,” she hastened to tell her friends, “and see someone who told me everything I ever did.”

God has bestowed the same gift of reading hearts on certain of his saints. St. John Vianney, the famous Curé of Ars of nineteenth century France, often received this gift as he worked with souls.

For instance, years after the Saint’s death, a certain railway worker testified before a church court how he had been converted by him. The fame of the Curé had prompted him to visit Ars, not to go to confession, but just to see what this priest was like. He liked what he saw, and followed St. John into the sacristy. The Saint at once told him to kneel down in the confessional. Willy-nilly he knelt.

“How long is it since your last confession?” the Curé asked him. “Such a long time that I can’t remember,” the stranger replied. “Examine yourself well. It is twenty-eight years.” “Twenty-eight years? Yes, that’s right.” “And you did not receive Holy Communion then,” the Saint continued: “you only received absolution.” “That’s correct, too.” As they talked, the railroad man felt his faith growing stronger. In the end, he made a complete and heartfelt confession. And he stuck by his new resolution.

When Jesus came up to Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple of its hucksters, many of the Judeans hailed his teaching. However, he did not trust them or take them into his confidence. He knew they were looking for a political Messiah, not the suffering Messiah he was called to be. He could read in their minds the point of view that would eventually turn them against Him.

… He was well aware of what was in man’s heart. (John, 2:25. Today’s gospel).

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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B207: We already have the Ten Commandments to guide us, part of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Does Jesus’ teaching really add anything to those, or just fulfill what is already there?

Both! Yes, Jesus did indeed add to the Commandments, but what he added was an “enhancement” or enlargement of those revelations of God’s will. For example, he taught us to love the one God as “Father,” and he taught us about the triune God (Father, Son, Spirit/Advocate) which are certainly beautiful enhancements to help us understand the First Commandment better. The commandments dealing with respect for life are not limited just to adultery (Sixth) or killing (Fifth); in fact, those two were never limited in the first place. But Jesus helps us understand more profoundly that sexuality (Sixth) now seeks the internal chastity of thoughts and desires , and that injurious behavior (Fifth, Seventh, Eighth etc) now seeks internal charity and active love of neighbor in word and deed (e.g., Matt 5:17-48).

Israel was what we might describe as a primitive culture at the time they received these commandments through Moses. Therefore, they had to be very general principles, so that they could be easily understood. The teachings of Jesus are a very rich expansion upon this framework of moral conduct. More commonly we call this expansion of Jesus on moral conduct “The Beatitudes” (as reflected, for example, in Chapter 5 of the gospel according to Matthew). If “happiness” with God is our ultimate goal in life, as taught by St. Thomas Aquinas, then the Beatitudes – an expansion on the 10 Commandments – is the road map presented by Jesus as the way to that goal.

Who can reach such a difficult goal? Jesus! And you! That is why we say that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law; he shows that it can be done, if we focus on love of God and neighbor. Everything is possible through love, and it is the love of Jesus that strengthens us through the Sacraments to help us on our way to that goal.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The “10 Commandments” are not a burden, but an incredible gift, because they reveal God to us and his holy will for us (CCC #2058-60). These commandments are certainly also discernible by reason alone, because the natural law was imprinted on our hearts at our conception, and it finds its expression in the commandments (CCC# 1955, 2070-71). This Lenten season is a time to ponder the question: how have I responded to God’s holy will for me?

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Q363: How could Jesus get so angry at a customary money-changing operation on the Temple grounds (John 2:13-25), and protest by overturning the money tables?

A preacher friend of mine (Rev. Mickey Anders, from whom this example comes) gave me an illustration of a modern form of protest. He reminded me of those people who are actively concerned about saving endangered species, who will sometimes come to public meetings and “peacefully disrupt” the proceedings – simply to focus attention on a very serious problem caused by human negligence. Through bad resource management, humans have succeeded in destroying the natural habitat of many species of birds and animals.

Jesus encountered a situation that was somewhat similar (by analogy). When he saw the money-changers threatening the “natural habitat” of worship, he became angry with a holy anger. Between the smell of the animals, the arguing over the rate of money exchange, the encroachment into worship space, and the noisy crowd, all meaningful worship was seriously threatened. The setting for worship was under attack, and this is what made Jesus angry.

Today, one wonders if perhaps our own worship setting, our “worship habitat” in our parish church, is also somewhat threatened? Has our “worship space” lost its “natural habitat” that is conducive to meaningful worship? Would a re-centralization of the Holy Tabernacle help restore an aura of holiness that characterized our church space for so long? Has “too much art” become a distraction, where even “The” sign of our Christianity (i.e., the Crucifix) has many times disappeared? Or, is church art a helpful aid to proper worship? These are things we must all weigh carefully and resolve appropriately.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Representational artwork confirms the mysteries of our faith, such as the Incarnation, and confirms the Gospel preaching (CCC #1160). Sacred art is only true when its form corresponds to its particular vocation: evoking and glorifying the mystery of God (CCC #2502). Anything that does not conform to the truth of faith and the authentic beauty of sacred art needs to be removed (CCC# 2502). Anything that distracts or detracts from worship falls into that category.

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Destroy This Temple and in Three Days I Will Raise It Up

We sometimes see pictures in the paper of people praying at the “Wailing Wall“ in Jerusalem.
A few years ago the pope prayed there. The wall is all that remains of the temple which Jesus purified in today’s Gospel. The temple was the great symbol of God’s presence among his people. But there was a widespread idea in Jesus’ day that in the Last Days, in the new age of God’s Kingdom, that temple would be replaced with a glorious heavenly temple. This seems to be behind John’s message today. Jesus proclaims in action that the heavenly kingdom is at hand and that the temple of Jerusalem is about to be replaced as the sign of God’s presence by a new temple, not built by hands. The new temple will be Christ himself. When they ask for a sign, Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again” — not rebuild, but raise up, for the temple of which he speaks is his own body. By baptism each of us has become part of the Body of Christ and therefore temples of the Holy Spirit. How are we doing this Lent as temples? How well do we serve as signs of God’s presence among his people?

Father, from living stones, your chosen people in Christ, you have built an eternal temple as the sign of your presence and your glory. Increase the spiritual gifts you give us so that we may continue to grow in to the new and eternal temple that is Christ.

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