Ordinary of the Mass
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It is easier to understand today’s
Epistle if you know that Saint Paul was referring to events that took place
during the Exodus of the Jewish people from captivity in Egypt.
What Paul refers to as “fornication” is probably the Jew’s creation and
worship of the golden calf while Moses was away on the mountain to receive
the Commandments—God frequently referred to their infidelity to Him as
“adultery.” The “tempting” and “murmuring” against God had to do with their
continual complaining as they wandered through the desert. Some of them
even wanted to return to captivity in Egypt, as the food was better than
what they were getting in the desert. The serpents were poisonous snakes
God sent against them—although providing a cure for them in the form of a
brass replica of a snake, held up on a pole for the people to look upon and
be cured—this snake on a pole is said to have some resemblance to our Lord
crucified. Saint Paul is telling us to avoid false religions, and to be
content with what God gives us in life without complaint.
The Gospel speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was very special to the Jews—the Temple there being the place
where God actually dwelled with His people, somewhat as He does today in the
Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
Our Lord’s words were prophetic, for
the destruction would take place as He described, a little less than forty
years later. The Emperor Vespasian sent the Roman army, commanded by his
son Titus, to put down the rebellion of the Jews. They reduced the
resistance of the Jews by throwing up a rampart around the city and starving
them out. After the siege ended they crucified or disemboweled many of the
people, and destroyed so much that the image of “not a stone standing upon a
stone” was nearly true in a literal sense.
The Temple in Jerusalem was the
place where our Lord taught daily “And the chief priests and the scribes
and the rulers of the people sought to destroy him ... [for] all the people
were very attentive to hear him.”
In spite of our Lord’s teaching, and in spite of the miracles He worked, the
rulers of the Jews were jealous of Him. They were afraid that they might
lose their positions of importance to Him—and they were afraid the Romans
would take notice—“If we let him alone so, all will believe in him; and the
Romans will come, and take away our place and nation.”
Our Lord was the last in a long line of prophets sent by God to urge the
repentance of the Jewish people: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest
the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee....”
Things would be no different with Jesus, and because of this rejection of
God and His prophets, the Holy City and its Temple would be destroyed, and
its unrepentant people scattered. It is said that those who became
Christians, knowing our Lord’s prophecy of the City’s destruction, were able
to flee before the Romans set up their siege.
In one of his many sermons, Pope
Saint Gregory the Great reminds us that even though we have accepted the
Catholic Faith, there is a danger that the Temple of our soul may become a
figurative “den of thieves,” and that many of us refuse to repent and will
face the same destruction as Jerusalem.
God expects the Christian soul to be
a font of prayers, and ever to be thirsting for the knowledge of Him. God
expects our will to conform to His will. He expects us to love our
neighbors as He loves us and them. To use our soul in any way unintended by
God is a sort of theft, or misappropriation. Remember, as the Catechism
says: God made us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world,
and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
If we refuse to know, love, and serve God we are misappropriating the
intellect and will that God gave us, and our soul becomes a “den of
As well, Pope Gregory reminds us
that the time for repentance is now. We must not make the mistake of the
Jews who thought that God would always be sending new prophets to them, and
that they could repent whenever they got around to it. Theirs is the
mistake of the Catholic who assumes that he will always have time for
repentance before he dies. He is under the illusion that he is guaranteed
to be conscious and awake before his last minutes on earth—under the
illusion that he can be sure of having a priest at his bedside to hear his
Confession and to give him the Sacraments. That is very unlikely in our
secular world, but was never guaranteed in any age or place.
And, repenting on one’s death bead
would not be much of a repentance. If the only thing that motivates us to
repentance is fear of death and punishment, it is much like saying that were
we not in fear for our lives, we would continue to reject God—hardly could
such a soul be said to “know, love, and serve God.” The “den of thieves”
label is appropriate, for such a soul looks to steal his salvation, without
having to do any of the things God expects of us.
The “time of our visitation” is
now! Jesus Christ has made Himself known to us and gives us the opportunity
to grow in holiness. He has admitted us to His kingdom on earth through
Baptism, and gives the opportunity to confess our sins, to stand by His
cross in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and to receive Him in Holy
Communion. He gives us the opportunity to make our souls temples of the
Holy Ghost through prayer.
God gives us the ability to resist
temptation, as Saint Paul tells us. No one is forced to live a life without
God. We are all capable of repentance and living life as a temple of the
Holy Ghost. The time is now, and not at some vague point in the future.
Your soul must be a temple of the
Holy Ghost, and not a den of thieves!