Tag Archives: Temple of Jerusalem

3rd Sunday of Lent: Jesus comes to CNN


To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:

CNN is running a series on Jesus at 9 on Sundays this Lent exploring the usual questions the networks and cable TV like to explore. Did Jesus really exist? Is that his image on the Shroud of Turin? Are other gospels out there that contradict the four we know? Have the archeologists found out anything about him? Was he married?

According to The Hollywood Reporter the CNN series entitled Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact and Forgery was viewed by over 1 million people last week and beat out all other networks. I watched the first episode on the Shroud of Turin last week.

I was glad to see the advice Father James Martin, SJ, offered on the CNN site about a series like this one:

“With Lent beginning, and a new CNN series on Christ coming up, you’re going to hear a lot about Jesus these days. You may hear revelations from new books that purport to tell the “real story” about Jesus, opinions from friends who have discovered a “secret” on the Web about the Son of God, and airtight arguments from co-workers who can prove he never existed.

Beware of most of these revelations; many are based on pure speculation and wishful thinking. Much of what we know about Jesus has been known for the last 2,000 years.”

Father Martin’s right. A lot of the supposed new revelations and new disclosures about Jesus are unproven and based on speculation and wishful thinking. They don’t negate what we have long known about Jesus. So, I’m not waiting for the final word on the Shroud of Turin to decide whether Jesus existed or not.

The media often rely on stuff like this–sometimes true, sometimes not– to get an audience. Ratings are important to them, but it’s not a good idea to rely on CNN or any of the mainstream media as your main source of information about Jesus. You can end up wondering if we can know him at all.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t ask questions or take into account new perspectives and information about Jesus. Not at all. We probably know more about his times and culture than has been known for centuries. We have a better understanding of the bible and the New Testament today, thanks to the efforts of modern scholars. Our challenge today is to incorporate what we know now into the faith we have.

For instance, I can listen to John’s gospel describing Jesus entering the temple in Jerusalem. (the gospel we’re reading the 3rd Sunday of Lent) I can visualize that temple. There’s a wonderful model of it created by archeologists and historians in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. In fact, they have created a model of the whole city of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.

Dominating the city, the temple was one of the great buildings of the world. It was the religious and political center of the Jewish world of the time. God was present there. It was the center of worship and politics.

When Jesus went into the temple and overturned the tables of the money-changers and those who sold the animals he was challenging the religious and political establishment of his time. It was a dramatic symbolic gesture by which he claimed that the kingdom of God was greater than all the beauty, all the power, all the splendor of our earthly kingdoms. He wasn’t just asking for reform; he was announcing a new world. It was present in him. He was the true temple. In his dying and rising he brought resurrection and new life to our world.

Do I think this happened? Yes, I do. Is this what our gospel today is saying? Yes, it is. Jesus made a tremendous claim during his lifetime. He claimed to be divine, to be God’s Son, to be God himself.
“God from God, light from light” we say in our creed. “Born of the Virgin Mary, he suffered under Pontius Pilate, he was crucified, died and was buried, and on the third day he rose again.”
He will come again to judge the living and the dead. He’s told us there is a forgiveness of sins, a resurrection of the body and life everlasting. He’s with us all days. He’s with us now.

We’re Called: 2nd Sunday B

Audio below

We may think our relationship to God is something just between the two of us, but it isn’t. Others help us on our way to God. So, in this Sunday’s gospel John the Baptist tells some of his disciples to follow Jesus and in that same reading, Andrew brings his brother Simon to the Lord. More than we know, we’re led to God by others and we lead others to God too.

We go to God together. Another way of saying it is that we belong to one body, a church. We’re not lonely believers. We know and are called to God together.

Our first reading from the Book of Samuel is about the young boy Samuel whom God has chosen for a special mission among the Israelites. His mother is the first to sense this, and she sends him to the temple where she hopes the priests there will help him understand what his calling is. Parents are the first guides for their children; they know them and they’re their most important teachers.

Young Samuel hears God calling in the night but it’s a very indistinct call; he’s a young boy and he doesn’t know what to make of it. The old priest Eli doesn’t help much at first. He tells the young man there’ s no one calling, go back to sleep.

Finally, the old man recognizes that God’s calling the young boy. You wonder if this isn’t an early example of “the generation gap,’ someone from an older generation not understanding someone from a younger generation? The story is not just about a young boy finding what God wants him to do; it’s also about someone from an older generation helping him find out. What was the old priest thinking? Was he too concerned with himself perhaps and couldn’t be bothered with this young boy? Or had he lost hope in the youth of his day?

After awhile, the old priest gives Samuel the right advice: “Go to sleep, and if you are called say ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’”

Very wise advice. The old priest is telling him, first of all, believe that God speaks to you. Believe, even in the night. Listen humbly like a servant. Don’t let your own ideas intrude. Be a listener; hear what God wants to tell you. Pray.

We published a little prayer some years ago “Be With Me Today, O Lord” asking for God’s guidance each day. There’s an elderly man from California who calls me every few months asking for copies of the prayer which he distributes in schools and churches in his area. I’m reminded of him and the prayer as we listen to the story of Samuel.

Be with me today, O Lord,

May all I do today begin with you, O Lord.

Plant dreams and hopes within my soul, revive my tired spirit, be with me today.

May all I do today continue with your help, O Lord.

Be at my side and walk with me. Be my support today.

May all I do today reach far and wide, O Lord.

My thoughts, my work, my life: Make them blessings for your kingdom;

Let them go beyond today.

Today is new, unlike any other day, for God makes each day different.

Today God’s everyday grace falls on my soul like abundant seed,

Though I may hardly see it.

Today is one of those days Jesus promised to be with me, a companion on my journey.

And my life today, if I trust him, has consequences.

My life has a purpose…

“ I have a mission…I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. God has not created me for naught…Therefore I will trust him. What ever, where ever I am, I can never be thrown away. God does nothing in vain. He knows what he is about.” (John Henry Newman)

Rejected By His Own

“And as for you, Capernaum, ‘Will you be exalted to heaven?

You will go down to the netherworld.” Luke 10,13-16

St. Luke, at the beginning of  his gospel, tells Theophilus and other readers that he’s going to give an orderly account of Jesus Christ and his church. Using sources available to him–among them Mark’s gospel and a collection of sayings Matthew also used and some other traditions– Luke’s “orderly” account aims, not just for historical accuracy, but for his readers facing the world they live in.

For example, Luke’s gospel offers references implying that the temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed. That happened in 70 AD. It’s one clue that Luke’s gospel was written from 80-90 AD, about 50 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem shocked Jews and Christians alike and caused many Christians to think that the world was coming to an end.  One reason Luke wrote his gospel was to remind his hearers about living  in the present moment, and so he recalls how often Jesus tells his disciples to take advantage of the time they have, to live “each day.” (Luke 9,23; 11,3; 16,19; 18,9-14; 19,1-10; 21.1-4)

I’m sure some of Luke’s gentile readers (He wrote with them in mind) were also wondering what was going on in the land where Jesus was born and taught and died and rose again. What was happening in Capernaum, Nazareth, Bethsaida– centers of Jesus’ life and ministry?

Those areas changed after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Galilee, in particular, where Jesus lived most of his life and years of ministry,  had become the center of Pharasaic Judaism. Jewish Christians were being displaced from Galilean  synagogues and towns by exiles from Judea, and Jesus was considered an enemy.

Luke’s “woes” are directed to this land where Jesus grew up and ministered. It’s a land that has rejected him. Luke says that even in his lifetime, Jesus experienced rejection here.  It’s a mystery of God.

The rejection of Jesus by his own people was a mystery that Christians could not understand then. “He came to his own and his own received him not,’ John’s gospel says. Paul writes extensively about this mystery in the 9th chapter of this Letter to the Romans. Hope in the mystery of God’s mercy, Paul writes, Israel will have its day of belief.

But rejection of Jesus goes on in other towns and places; we don’t understand his rejection now.  Why can’t people believe in him; why do they turn away from him?  We ask this today especially  as we see people abandoning Christianity and its churches. We wonder about the future of Christianity, especially among the young.

The mystery of unbelief is a mystery which calls us, not to believe less, but to believe more strongly. Believe in him with all your strength, preach him as well as you know how, Luke’s gospel says. Live like him, and you will enter into the mystery of his cross and resurrection.

The New Temple

In his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict begins the account of the Passion of Jesus with the incident in the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus drives out those who buy and sell there. Unlike the other gospels that put that event immediately before his passion and death, John’s gospel puts it further back, at the beginning of Jesus ministry, as he goes up to the Holy City to celebrate the Passover.

Unlike the other gospels that present one journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, John’s gospel sees Jesus making three journeys there. His chronology is more accurate. He wishes to show that opposition to Jesus at the highest levels began early on. If he overturned the tables in the entranceway of the temple, what would he do next?  Destroy it? Alarmed, the city’s leaders kept a close watch on this Galilean trouble-maker.

The pope calls attention to three interpretations for Jesus’ action. First, some say he was trying to reform a system gone bad as abuses crept in. People, including those in charge of the temple, were making money on the system and Jesus was calling attention to their corrupt practices.

Benedict sees more to the event than that.

Others say that Jesus was a Zealot,  belonging to a Jewish party intent on forcefully overthrowing a Judaism become too “Hellenized,”  too influenced by the prevailing Greco-Roman culture of its conquerors.

There are flaws to this interpretation too, Benedict notes, and points to the way the synoptic gospels describe Jesus as he enters Jerusalem immediately before he cleanses the temple. He rides into the city on a donkey, the humble beast who carries a humble Messiah. The warrior would come on a horse and chariot. He is the shepherd slain for his sheep, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, who takes his people’s sins on to himself.

The temple was conceived as more than a place of Jewish worship. According to the Prophet Isaiah ( Isaiah 2,2-5) it was seen as a place where all peoples could come to worship the one God. The court of the Gentiles in the temple symbolized their future place. Jesus‘ action symbolically readied Judaism to receive new nations.

In the gospel of John, 12:20 ff, some Greeks ask to see Jesus, just before his passion and death. They represent the new peoples who find their way to the Father through Jesus himself. His death will bring much fruit.

In John’s gospel, he tells the Samaritan woman, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Jn 4, 21  Jesus becomes the new temple.

Church Closings

IMG_2928My window in Union City faces the great church across the street, which I still think of as St. Michael’s, although now the signs outside say in Korean and English that it’s the Hudson Presbyterian Church.  Until its closing and sale in 1981, St. Michael’s was one of the “mother churches” of Hudson County, NJ, where devotions to the Passionist saints flourished and where many of my Passionist community’s important moments took place.

A good number of parishes were established throughout the county from this place, after its foundation in 1869.

St. Michael's 3St.Michael’s 1881

St. Michael’s parish was closed because many of its parishioners moved to the suburbs as new immigrants came here and the Passionists couldn’t take on the large expense involved in maintaining the old church. The Passionists were also experiencing a decline in members,  and staffing the old monastery was difficult.

Since 1981, church closings have increased in the Unites States, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, due to population shifts, the expense in keeping up old buildings, and recently, a drastic economic downturn. But there’s another important factor contributing to church closings that doesn’t get the attention it deserves:   people are leaving the Catholic Church.

One of the best sources on religious practice in the United States is the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (http://pewforum.org/), based in Washington, D.C., “a nonpartisan ‘fact tank’ that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world.”

It’s recent survey (April 27, 2009), which reports that about half of American adults have changed religious affiliation at least once in their lives, explores the reasons different groups cite for leaving or joining their religion.

“Most people who change their religion leave their childhood faith before age 24, and many of those who change religion do so more than once,” the survey says.

“The group that has grown the most in recent years due to religious change is the unaffiliated population. Two-thirds of former Catholics who have become unaffiliated and half of former Protestants who have become unaffiliated say they left their childhood faith because they stopped believing in its teachings, and roughly four-in-ten say they became unaffiliated because they do not believe in God or the teachings of most religions.”

“Additionally, many people who left a religion to become unaffiliated say they did so in part because they think of religious people as hypocritical or judgmental, because religious organizations focus too much on rules or because religious leaders are too focused on power and money. Far fewer say they became unaffiliated because they believe that modern science proves that religion is just superstition.”

“Catholicism has suffered the greatest net loss in the process of religious change. Many people who leave the Catholic Church do so for religious reasons; two-thirds of former Catholics who have become unaffiliated say they left the Catholic faith because they stopped believing in its teachings, as do half of former Catholics who are now Protestant. Fewer than three-in-ten former Catholics, however, say the clergy sexual abuse scandal factored into their decision to leave Catholicism.”

Almost 1,000 Catholic churches have closed in the US in the last 10 years and more closings will come, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. When the diocese of Cleveland closed or merged a third of its 224 parishes recently, Bishop Richard Lennon had to be escorted by Cleveland police as he made the rounds for the closing ceremonies.

In February, Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton announced the consolidation of diocesan parishes –from 209 to 111, citing changing demographics, fewer financial resources and a dwindling number of priests as reasons for the closures and mergers. The bishop’s recent resignation had to be influenced, in part, by the turmoil that came from the move.

It’s a dangerous time to be a church leader, and hard to be a Catholic in a shrinking church.  The church is suffering.

A sermon of Origen, an early 3rd century Christian scholar, may offer a good image for understanding  our present suffering. He sees a suffering church in the light of the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem.

Just as the stones of the Jewish temple, once harmoniously connected to each other, were pulled away from each other and cast down by Roman legions in 70 AD, so the “living stones” of the church, once harmoniously joined together, can become disconnected and fragmented “by troubles and persecutions.”

“Nevertheless the temple will be rebuilt and will rise again on the third day,” Origen says, echoing the words of Jesus,  “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2,19)

For Origin, the destruction of the temple is an image of the Passion of Christ. The “troubles” in our present church belong to this same mystery. We’re experiencing them and have no idea how much will be torn down and what the rebuilding will look like. The “third day” is a good way off, but it will come.