Zeal For Our Own Houses: Lent, Purifications, and Keeping Our Souls Upright

J.M.J.

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My dear friends,

Tomorrow, March 8th, we’ll hear one of the more unsettling Gospel readings of the liturgical cycle. St. John relates the happenings for us (Jn. 2:14-17):

Jesus found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of chords and drove them all out of the temple area, 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 market place.’ His disciples recalled the words of Scripture: Zeal for your house will consume me.

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The temple referred to here is, of course, a physical building, and Christ here is attempting to cleanse it of those who would use it improperly. But this reading, coming as it does during Lent, that penitential time of the Church’s calendar, makes me think of a second, and much more important, type of temple: human persons.

 I have such a difficult time remembering that my body and soul, really and truly, constitute a temple of God.  Being in God’s grace does not just mean that one is “without mortal sin,” or that one is “kinda, sorta right with God.” Being in the state of grace means the real, genuine, and personal indwelling of God within the soul. Our Lord said to His disciples, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our dwelling with him” (Jn. 14:23). This wasn’t some kind of nice figure of speech that has no real effect on reality—it’s a genuine assurance, a real sign of God’s love for each person individually. The person who follows God is not just given a ticket to heaven when he dies, but rather, he receives the true indwelling of the Three Divine Persons in his soul.

Not only the soul, but the body, too, constitutes a temple. “Do you not know,” St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you? You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore, bear and glorify God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

“You are not your own.”

It’s hard to remember that, isn’t it?

The passage from John’s Gospel quoted above says that “zeal for God’s house” consumed Our Lord as He drove everyone from the temple. If we, too, human persons, are temples, then what is Lent but a time to drive damaging vices, corruptions, and influences from ourselves? Zeal for the physical temple consumed the Lord Jesus, yet any physical temple is destined for decay.  The human soul, however, is a temple which will last forever, either in heaven or hell, depending on whom we have followed in our time on earth. The human body, too, the temple of the Holy Spirit, will be resurrected at the end of time, to add either to our glory and happiness in heaven with God, or our torment in hell apart from Him.

Part of the idea behind the customary Lenten sacrifices that Catholics take on is that they might be an aid in purifying the soul, quelling vices, and bringing one closer to God. But without a zeal for the soul as God’s temple, they can become an arbitrary chore that might as well not be taken on. Are you performing a sacrifice this Lent out of a sense of obligation, or do you truly want to grow closer to God through this offering? Is there some vice you want to eradicate? Perform your sacrifice with the mind of Christ in this Gospel: get a whip, knock over tables, and drive out that which makes your relationship with God a kind of contract, but not a relationship of personal and genuine love.

Let zeal for your house, for your temple, consume you.

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May God bless you all, and have a holy Lent.

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The Meaning of the Agony in the Garden

Seeing as it’s now Lent, and Lent is a penitential season, it seems like the opportune time to talk about something that’s been on my mind for the last week: the agony in the garden.

It’s one we’ve all heard before on the many Palm Sundays we’ve lived through. After the Last Supper, Jesus Christ goes with His disciples to the Mount of Olives, instructs them to stay awake and pray, then goes off to pray Himself, saying: “Father, if Thou wilt, remove this chalice from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done” (Lk. 22:42, Douay-Rheims).

We are told that the suffering experienced by Our Blessed Lord was so intense that, even after an angel came to comfort Him in His agony, His sweat became “as drops of blood, trickling down on the ground” (22:44).

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According to Matthew’s gospel, His prayer (Remove this chalice, yet Thy will be done) was repeated three times in all. Here comes the intriguing part. What caused such anguish in Our Lord’s soul that the presence of an angel, the sweating of blood, and a threefold repetition of His prayer were necessary before it was over? That, my dear friends, is what I will show you now.

It would be a mistake to think that Our Savior was merely afraid of approaching suffering and death. To be sure, His physical suffering went to the utter limit of human capacity; to be sure, it caused immense pain, which no one but a person in total union with God (or in our case here, God Himself) could handle. But the anguish in Gethsemane was not related, at least primarily, to upcoming physical pain.

The suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane was the pain of sin. Think for a minute now. How many times have you sinned mortally? Obviously that’s something you yourself will know (at any rate, I don’t want to know). Then, how many times throughout a given day have you sinned venially? How many times have you resolved within the past month or two to never sin again, with the help of God’s grace, only to fall again? How many times have you done this throughout your whole life? I don’t know about you, but I can’t count my own number of times. Then consider all the people presently alive, who sin, have sinned, or will sin, multiple times every day. And all those of a previous generation who have died and sinned either gravely or slightly, from Adolph Hitler to Henry VIII to Thomas Aquinas to the Pharisees to the ancient Egyptians, all the way back to Adam and Eve. And if all those countless sins aren’t enough to think about, consider all those in the future who will sin over and over again who haven’t yet done so, all the way to the end of the world.

Every. Single. Sin. Big and small, public and private, communal and individual, through all ages, past, present, and future. In the Garden of Gethsamene, Our Lord felt that weighing upon His soul—the weight of the world’s sin, and all those who would reject Him and choose Hell, past, present, and future (and if we are to take His words in Matthew 7 at face value, the majority end up doing that).

It must be remembered that the same One who was Almighty God from eternity became really man at the Incarnation. He became really man, and thus, as man, became really finite. He really had emotions, really experienced suffering, and all the knowledge that His suffering was necessary couldn’t mitigate the emotional devastation brought about by sin.

I don’t say this to make you feel unnecessarily terrible, of course. If you’re in the state of grace, praise God, and thank Him for what He went through for you and for the world. If you’re not, think of what was done for you and repent. And indeed, if you think about it, the suffering of the agony in the garden was itself a clear display of the Divine Mercy. No one except a person with an infinite capacity for love could go through that. But it’s very interesting to think about, and hopefully this episode beginning Our Lord’s Passion can light a fire within your soul that will help you persevere more faithfully through Lent. However countless our sins may be, they are not, in fact, infinite, and never can be, and God will always have greater power than they.

God bless, and may the Blessed Virgin Mary keep you under her protection.