This week’s Mass readings from the 1st Book of Maccabees tell the story of the re-dedication of the temple of Jerusalem three years after its profanation by Antiochus Epiphanes. About the year 167 BC, Jews under Judas Maccabeus re-conquered Jerusalem and restored the temple, the heart of their religion.
The first reading this Friday describes the rededication of the temple to its former glory. The Jews continue to celebrate it in the feast of Hannukah. (1 Maccabees 4,36-61}
The New Testament writers, certainly aware of this historic event, recall Jesus cleansing the temple.(Friday’s gospel) Entering Jerusalem after his journey from Galilee, “ Jesus went into the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’” Then, “every day he was teaching in the temple area” until he was arrested and put to death. (Luke 19,45-48)
Cleansing the temple was a symbolic act. By it, Jesus signified he himself is the presence of God, the Word made flesh, the new temple of God.
Luke says Jesus taught in the temple “every day.” As our eternal high priest, he teaches us every day and brings us to his Father and our Father–every day.
Jesus is the temple that cannot be destroyed. At his trial before he died, witnesses gave testimony that was half right when they said he spoke of destroying the temple. When he spoke about the destruction of the temple, Jesus was speaking of the temple of his own body. Death seemed to destroy him, but he was raised up on the third day.
We share in this mystery as “members of his body.” Yet, we’re a sacramental people and need places to come together, to pray and to meet God who “dwells among us.” We need churches and holy places. We instinctively revolt when we see them go.
This week our first readings at Mass are from the First and Second Books of Maccabees describing the Jewish revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes, successor to Alexander the Great. The revolt took place over a hundred years before the time of Jesus. The rededication of the temple by Judas Maccabeus after its profanation by foreign invaders inspired the Jewish Feast of Hannukah. (Thursday)
The Maccabean revolt is one reason why the times of Jesus were so politically sensitive. On his journey to Jerusalem, some “thought that the kingdom of God would appear there immediately.” (Luke 19,11) Some of his disciple may have thought that would happen by an armed uprising against the Romans, like that against Antiochus Epiphanes.
Our readings this week are not battle accounts from the uprising but rather stories of two elderly faithful Jews:: Eleazar, a scribe who refused to assimilate to the culture of the conquerors, and a mother who inspired her seven sons to resist the invaders. (Tuesday and Wednesday)
All Eleazar had to do was pretend to eat the meat of sacrifice, but the ninety-year old chose to die rather than give bad example to the young.
“I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.” (2 Maccabees 6. 30-31)
The Jewish mother, seized with her seven son and witness to their torture and death, urged them to keep their faith and persevere:
“I do not know how you came into existence in my womb; it was not I who gave you the breath of life, nor was it I who set in order the elements of which each of you is composed.
Therefore, since it is the Creator of the universe who shapes each man’s beginning, as he brings about the origin of everything, he, in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life,
because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law.” (2 Maccabees 7,1, 21-31)
Pope Francis often speaks of the wisdom and influence of the elderly. We rely on them.
On November 18th, we honor the great apostles, Peter and Paul, in the ancient churches where they were buried: the Vatican Basilica of St. Peter and the Basilica of St. Paul, both built in the fourth century. The two apostles are founders and protectors of the Roman church.
Rome’s Christians marked where these apostles were martyred with special care. Peter, early sources say, was crucified on the Vatican Hill in 64 near the obelisk not far from the circus of the emperors Caligula and Nero and was buried nearby. The Emperor Constantine erected a basilica over his burial site in 326, while Sylvester was pope. Later in 1626 the present basilica replaced it. Recent excavations have uncovered Peter’s burial place under the papal altar of this church.
Paul, tradition says, was beheaded on the Ostian Way, outside the ancient city walls, in 67. Constantine built a large church over his grave in 386. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1823 according to its original measurements. The apostle’s grave lies before the main altar of the church.
We build churches honoring apostles and saints, often enshrining their relics, because we believe they watch over us even now. “The company of the apostles praises you…From their place in heaven they guide us still.”
Defend your Church, O Lord,
by the protection of the holy Apostles,
that, as she received from them
the beginnings of her knowledge of things divine,
so through them she may receive,
even to the end of the world,
an increase in heavenly grace.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Collect for the feast)
November 17th, is the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. At 14 she married Louis, ruler of Thuringia, and lived happily with him for 8 years until he died in 1227. Inspired by St. Francis of Assisi, she made the resources of her kingdom serve the poor, especially when floods, famine and plague struck that land in 1226.
Her spiritual director, Conrad of Marbugh, wrote this masterful little biography of her after she died:
“She was a lifelong friend of the poor and gave herself entirely to relieving the hungry. She ordered that one of her castles should be converted into a hospital in which she gathered many of the weak and feeble. She generously gave alms to all who were in need, not only in that place but in all the territories of her husband’s empire. She spent all her own revenue from her husband’s four principalities, and finally she sold her luxurious’ possessions and rich clothes for the sake of the poor.
Twice a day, in the morning and in the evening, Elizabeth went to visit the sick. She personally cared for those who were particularly repulsive; to some she gave food, to others clothing; some she carried on her own shoulders, and performed many other kindly services. Her husband, of happy memory, gladly approved of these charitable works. Finally, when her husband died, she sought the highest perfection; filled with tears, she implored me to let her beg for alms from door to door.
On Good Friday of that year, when the altars had been stripped, she laid her hands on the altar in a chapel in her own town, where she had established the Friars Minor, and before witnesses she voluntarily renounced all worldly display and everything that our Saviour in the gospel advises us to abandon. Even then she saw that she could still be distracted by the cares and worldly glory which had surrounded her while her husband was alive.
Against my will she followed me to Marburg. Here in the town she built a hospice where she gathered together the weak and the feeble. There she attended the most wretched and contemptible at her own table.
Apart from those active good works, I declare before God that I have seldom seen a more contemplative woman. When she was coming from private prayer, some religious men and women often saw her face shining marvellously and light coming from her eyes like the rays of the sun.
Before her death I heard her confession. When I asked what should be done about her goods and possessions, she replied that anything which seemed to be hers belonged to the poor. She asked me to distribute everything except one worn out dress in which she wished to be buried. When all this had been decided, she received the body of our Lord. Afterward, until vespers, she spoke often of the holiest things she had heard in sermons. Then, she devoutly commended to God all who were sitting near her, and as if falling into a gentle sleep, she died.”
Dear Readers, I just came back from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. As some of you probably know, this trip can have a profound effect on a person’s soul. Fr. Victor asked me to write about some of the experiences I had, both externally and internally.
The holiness of the sites we visited was indisputable, but I must admit that one of the greatest blessings I had on this journey was the company of the other travelers in our group. I was touched by the goodness, the friendliness, and the faith of each one of them. Each meal that we shared, each passing conversation that we had, was a lesson on what it means to be a Christian. I will always be grateful for having met these wonderful members of the Body of Christ.
One of our fellow travelers was Fr. Balufu Basekela. He lived for many years in Rome, and finally spent the previous two decades of his life as a parish priest in a diocese in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a place quite different and far away from his native Congo. He had just retired and the Parish had given him this trip as a gift for his years of service. He seemed to love every minute of the trip. His camaraderie, his humble, pleasant way was a joy to us all.
The Holy Land displays a large collection of ruins and stones, both large and small, from century upon century of construction and destruction. It reminds us of the instability, even insignificance, of the things we humans give ourselves credit for.
The Gospel for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary time points to this phenomenon : “While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, ‘ All that you see here — the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.’” (Lk 21:5-6)
In Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is built over the sites where our Lord Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected from the dead, is another example of the impermanence of human works. The place is a sprawling complex of chapels, rotundas, domes, and fragments thereof, built , destroyed, and rebuilt over the centuries. At the heart of the church is the Aedicule, a small all-marble chapel divided into two chambers. It was last rebuilt in the early 1800’s over the believed remains of the cave where Jesus was buried.
To enter within, one stoops through a small, ornate entrance into a rectangular(or was it octagonal?) space called the Chapel of the Angels . It is believed to be the place where the shattered stone that sealed the entrance to Jesus’ tomb once lay, and angels stood over it in power and joy. A fragment of that original stone is said to be in there, but I was in too much awe of the place to remember . The marble walls had been sculpted into the semblance of folds of curtains, plants, and little angels all around.
All 33 of us barely fitted inside this cramped space, with a small stone table in the center for celebrating the Mass, with everyone standing up. This was no place for persons who suffer from claustrophobia, but nobody complained . Fr. Charles, our guide, and Fr. Balufu were our celebrants. While the Liturgy of the Word was taking place all of us would shift our place so that 3-by-3 , we could crawl through the tiny entrance to the next chamber and spend a few seconds there. This chamber cannot comfortably accommodate more than 3 people at a time.
On one of the marble walls there is a small window which gives us a glimpse of the original limestone tomb-cave . On the other wall is a stone shelf for priests to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Beneath the shelf there is a centuries-old horizontal marble slab, less than two feet off the ground, which is believed to cover and protect the actual slab of rock where Jesus rested, and two days later opened His eyes and sat up full of Glory, Power, and Love for us!
Two thousand years later, we knelt on this stone and had our short personal moment with Him. His Presence was overwhelming. The desire was to remain there , with your face to the rock and just stay for God knows how long ( Eternity?). However, there were good people waiting outside with whom you had to share this blessing. The experience was so powerful and satisfying that it did not matter that it was so brief.
After everyone was finally back in the Chapel of the Angels, the two priests went into the burial chamber and proceeded with the Liturgy of the Eucharist. They came back out and gave us the Host, and then we had to leave. There were hundreds of people waiting in line to get in there.
Later that day, four of us were sitting with Fr. Balufu at a small table in an Arab luncheonette having some food. We engaged in small talk, and shared our life stories with each other. At one point one of us commented on the time at the Holy Sepulcher and I found myself telling Fr. Balufu, “Wow, what an experience it must have been for you as a priest to consecrate the Host in the place where Jesus resurrected!” He became serious, almost sad, his eyes still back there, and commented, “What I felt the most was how small I was, how insignificant, before the greatness of God. I felt humbled.” We just sat there quietly for a while in the light of this holy man’s company. I had tears in my eyes and a faint smile in my face as I nibbled on the falafel sandwich.
A couple of weeks ago back in Jamaica, Queens, at Mass, we read from the Book of Wisdom something that can help me appreciate that moment, and the mystery of the Passion and Resurrection, for that matter: “ Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But You have mercy on all, because You can do all things; and You overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For You love all things that are and loathe nothing that You have made.” (Wisdom 11: 22-24a) By Orlando Hernández