Sunday, March 15, 2009

Is it, “Zeal for your house consumes me!” or is it, “Zeal for your house consumes me?”

(Third Sunday of Lent (B): This homily was given on March 15, 2009 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 2: 13-25.)
[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Lent 2009]

“Zeal for your house consumes me.”

That’s a line from the 69th Psalm, which is applied to Jesus in today’s gospel reading from John 2. The apostles watch Jesus—“gentle Jesus”—kick the money changers out of the Temple area, and this line of Scripture immediately pops into their minds.

That’s because it expressed Jesus’ attitude perfectly: As the eternal Son of the eternal Father, our Blessed Lord had a deep reverence for the sacred. And for first century Jews, the Temple was the most sacred place in the entire world.

Now I should mention at this point that these money changers were, for the most part, performing a necessary service according to Jewish law. The problem was that in the process they were also getting filthy rich by overcharging their brothers and sisters. As Jesus said in Matthew’s account of this event, they were turning the sacred Temple into “a den of thieves.”

According to the Bible, as I just mentioned, the apostles didn’t verbalize this verse from Psalm 69, they simply thought of it. But Jesus himself could have easily said it, because it expressed perfectly the deepest sentiment of his heart. And had he said it, you can be sure that there would have been a big EXCLAMATION POINT at the end of the sentence: “Zeal for your house consumes me!”

Which brings us to the question of the day: For me, would it also be an exclamation point, or rather would it be a question mark?

Jesus had a deep reverence for the sacred, and so his attitude was, “Zeal for your house consumes me (exclamation point)!”

Unfortunately, many people today lack reverence for the sacred, and so their attitude is: “Zeal for your house consumes me (question mark)?

Reverence for the sacred, of course, begins long before we come into church on Sunday morning or Saturday evening for Mass. It actually begins with how we look at and treat other people out there in the world throughout the week. Do we affirm, for example, the dignity of every human person from the moment of conception until the moment of natural death—including our enemies?

Every human being, remember, is created in the image and likeness of God.

This fundamental respect for others, which is a sign of our reverence for God, is obviously also made manifest here on these sacred grounds—beginning in the parking lot! Ah yes, the parking lot. Are you courteous to your brothers and sisters out there—especially those who are, shall we say, “more mature in years”? Do you park where you’re supposed to park in obedience to your pastor?

If you don’t, then please understand that you lack proper reverence for the Almighty!

Why? Because you are disobeying the 4th commandment of God that we just heard in our first reading! Biblically speaking, “Honor your father and your mother” means “Honor all those who exercise God’s authority over you in your life—including your pastor.”

You see, reverence isn’t just about folding our hands and looking holy for an hour a week in church. It encompasses everything we do, including, of course, what we do during—and in preparation for—Mass!

Think, for example, about how you normally dress for Sunday Liturgy. Whether we’re aware of it or not, the fact is: our attire reflects, at least to some extent, our level of reverence. Now I know there are some people who can only get to one Mass on the weekend, and to be on time for that particular Liturgy they have to come directly from work. They don’t have time to go home and clean up and dress up as they would like to.

But the rest of us don’t have that excuse. Now I’m not saying that we need to wear a tuxedo or evening gown to Sunday Mass every week; but I am saying that out of reverence for the King of kings and the Lord of lords we should make every effort to be clean and well-groomed and to dress neatly, and respectfully—and modestly. As it says in the Catechism: “Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of the moment when Christ becomes our guest.” (CCC, 1387)

And speaking of gestures and actions, here’s something I’ve been dying to say for a long time; it may come as a huge surprise to some of you: Did you realize that chewing gum is not an official part of the Catholic Mass?

I had to mention that because I think a growing number of people think it is!

When I was little, and was making a lot of unnecessary noise chewing gum, my mother would look at me and say, “The gum-chewing boy and the cud-chewing cow: the difference is, the intelligent look on the face of the cow!”

Mom had a great way of making her point.

So let’s be clear about it: Chewing gum at Mass is a big no-no! It is NOT a proper sign of reverence for Jesus Christ, who comes to us at Mass in word and in sacrament.

Neither, by the way, is text messaging! So if you’re one who does it, stop it!

And speaking of the sacrament—the Blessed Sacrament—proper reverence dictates that we should genuflect toward the tabernacle when we come into church and before we enter our pew (or bow if we’re physically unable to genuflect). It also dictates that we should genuflect to the tabernacle whenever we pass in front of it (for example, on our way to the restroom).

And, of course, proper reverence should always be made before we receive Jesus in the Eucharist at Communion time: the preferred sign of reverence being the head bow, as specified by our bishops a few years ago.

And obviously (well, maybe not so obviously) reverence for Jesus means that we should acknowledge him and speak to him AFTER we receive him in the Holy Eucharist.

That’s why leaving Mass right after Communion is also a big no-no! It is a gross sign of disrespect on par with chewing gum and text messaging! In fact, it may actually be worse than chewing gum and text messaging.

“Zeal for your house consumes me.” It’s my prayer today that if we’ve put a question mark at the end of that sentence in the past, we will learn to put a big exclamation point there in the future—like Jesus.

Dear Lord, help us always to be reverent IN your Father’s house—and OUTSIDE of your Father’s house—in imitation of you. Amen.