3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent

Fr. Joseph Levine; March 7, 2021
Readings: Ex 20,1-17; Ps 19,8-11; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25

In today’s 1st reading we heard God’s proclamation of the Ten Commandments to all the people; yes, all the people, not just Moses, heard these words. Every Catholic should know the Ten Commandments by heart. These were not abrogated by Jesus Christ but confirmed by him. (cf. Mt 5:17-19; 15:3-9; 19:17-19). Jesus summed up all the commandments of the law in love of God and love of neighbor. In the form they were given to Moses the commandments specify the minimum requirements of love of God and love of neighbor. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus unfolds and reveals the deeper requirements of the commandments.

In today’s Gospel, we heard about Jesus driving from the temple those who by selling animals for sacrifice and changing money were turning the temple into a marketplace. The evangelist applies to Jesus the words of the Psalm: Zeal for your house consumes me.

We can first of all ask: which of the Ten Commandments were being broken by the vendors and money changers?

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord in vain, because the temple was regarded as a dwelling place of God, a sanctuary of his holy name; by their commercial activity they were effectively making a mockery of God’s name.

Also, Keep holy the Sabbath, because as the Sabbath is a time set apart and consecrated to the worship of God, the temple is a place set apart and consecrated to the worship of God. So, they were also effectively profaning the sabbath.

Further, if this commercial operation was not fraudulent, it was almost certainly extortionary. The vendors and the moneychangers were taking advantage of the pilgrims’ need for animals for sacrifice and the coinage acceptable in the temple by charging excessive prices. Though they were in the temple, a holy place, they had no fear of God.

When the fear of God falls by the wayside, there is no injustice that a man will not inflict on another, if only he thinks he can get away with it. That is why, in the last analysis, human justice is inseparable from the right worship of God, worship in spirit and truth. (cf. Jn 4:23-24)

Let us now focus on Jesus’ words: Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.

The charge is a serious one and refers to a grave danger that always besets religious practice and religious institutions.

Material resources and money are needed. Even well-meaning and above-board attempts at acquiring those needed resources can give the appearance of turning religion into mere commercial practice. Even a saint who raises money for the Church is liable to be accused of underhanded dealings and shady motives.

Nevertheless, so long as all those fundraising efforts are truly subordinated to the worship in spirit and truth, to the glory of God and the salvation of souls, they are not only legitimate, but share in the holiness of worship.

Further, we must distinguish the shady practices of ‘fundraisers’ from the well-intended generosity of the donors. While the donor should exercise ‘due-diligence’, he should give with the intention of giving to God and, if in the end he discovers he was defrauded, nevertheless God received his gift. The sellers in the temple may have defrauded the worshippers, but the worshippers still offered their sacrifice to God.

The real danger here, though, is when a religious institution really does become fraudulent, when it really does become little more than a marketplace, a money-making operation. There is no doubt a great deal of that going on today in all religious institutions, including the Catholic Church. Here it is worthwhile noting that the greatest fundraiser in the Catholic Church at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century was probably Theodore McCarrick.

Still, we can observe the phenomenon is not limited to the Church. There is also a great deal of it going on, in an analogous way, in all the non-institutional, ‘spiritual but not religious’, free-lance ‘ministries’, and in ‘the whole ‘self-help’ industry. I would think that Oprah Winfrey is a seller in the temple of God.

This commerce takes place when instead of feeding people with the word of God, the Body of Christ, and the promise of eternal life, the doctrine of faith is adulterated, the commandments of God are set aside, the sacrament is reduced to a mere appearance, a show, and the horizon of hope is reduced to this world.

This I would say has for some time become widespread in the Church on the account of the rejection of the 6th commandment in particular: Thou shalt not commit adultery. I am not just talking about the failure to obey the commandment; I am talking about the outright rejection of the commandment.

This has been widespread among the clergy, both bishops and priests, who have not been faithful to their promise of celibacy, who have abused their power to exploit both children and adults, who have covered up their crimes, all the while condoning in their preaching and in the confessional, whether by what they have said or didn’t say, contraception, pre-marital sex, divorce and remarriage, homosexual activity, and even abortion.

The result is that it is quite common to have a Catholic parish in which everyone approaches and receives communion, the Body of Christ, while a great many, perhaps even the priest, have committed grievous sins that stand in contradiction to the reality they receive. Neither are they concerned to go to confession because they don’t think they have really sinned. They are all ‘good people’

Consider the words of St. Paul in this regard: Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Cor 11:27-29)

The law of the Church, the Code of Canon Law, applies this in two distinct ways. The first pertains to the recipient of holy communion. In this regard, Canon 916 affirms: “Anyone who is conscious of grave sin may not celebrate Mass [this refers to the priest] or receive the Body of the Lord without previously having been to sacramental confession.” That is the judgment that each one must make in his own conscience in accord with the words of St. Paul.

There is, however, also an obligation on part of the minister of holy communion – and this is an important reason to minimize the use of extraordinary ministers. Canon 915 mandates that “those … who obstinately persist in manifest grave sin, are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

That is why Catholics who are married outside the Church or who are divorced and remarried civilly are not permitted to receive communion. Objectively they are living in the manifest grave sin of either adultery or fornication. Those words may hurt, but they are the proper words for the action, regardless of the intent of the actor. We need to start calling things by their proper names and stop using language that hides the reality in order to please people. Indeed, many people are in the situation they are because the clergy have stopped speaking clearly on the matter, while the secular culture has told them very clearly, “Just do it!”

The point is that all of this has turned the Lord’s house into a marketplace, where people come, put their money into the collection basket, in order to receive some sort consolation of belonging and being approved. That is why also teaching has shied away from the reality of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist; that is why so many Catholics no longer believe in the reality; that is why in so many places the Mass has become little more than a celebration of community
‘togetherness’; that is why so much Catholic preaching has the quality of cotton-candy.

We need to make up our minds; do we want to be consumers in the marketplace of ‘feel-good’ religion, or do we want God.

All this has been going on for quite some time, but now the choice is made starker because something has happened to push the crisis to another level altogether, in the nation and in the world.

What has happened has a name: President Joseph Biden. He occupies what until now has been regarded as the most powerful office in the world and he is now the most visible Catholic in the nation and he makes a point of proclaiming himself a ‘devout Catholic’ to the point that he once threatened to shove his rosary down the throat of anyone who disputed him.

Now, it is important to note that we would never have arrived at this point unless Joseph Biden (and many other Catholic politicians) had not met with episcopal and sacerdotal enablers along the way. Theodore McCarrick has been one of them; indeed he used to offer Catholic ‘access’ to then Vice-President Biden. The current Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, DC, who used to be very much associated with Theodore McCarrick, appears to be another.

Further, it is important to note that what I have to say here is not a matter of politics but a matter of Church discipline and the salvation of souls. The soul of Joseph Biden stands in grave danger. The souls of his enablers are in grave danger. The souls of many others have been endangered because of the scandal – indeed countless souls must have already been lost due to a scandal that has been continuing now at least since I was baptized 40 years ago.

The scandal now is this: that when one day Joseph Biden goes to Mass and receives communion and displays his rosary, then the next day he uses the fulness of his presidential power to advance the most radical pro-abortion, pro-LGBT agenda in history, he makes a loud public statement that Mass and communion and the rosary are all just a nice appearance. He is making a mockery of the Catholic faith. It all becomes a mere show. Catholic entertainment. The Church is reduced to giving the blessing of its approval on the projects of a radically secular and anti-Christian world. Then money flows into the coffers.

Fortunately, there are some bishops who are starting to call out this contradiction; unfortunately, there are powerful Cardinals who are fully supporting President Biden. The Biden presidency throws this challenge in the face of the Church: are you a reality? Or just a show?

Perhaps Joseph Biden will end up being the whip of cords in the hands of the Lord to purify his Temple.

In any case, it is important to be aware of what is going on here. In a way, the Biden presidency gives us a great light of discernment. Now people must choose sides. Now when you see someone on television speaking about the Church and the faith, now you when come across a Catholic author or speaker, in any matter pertaining to life in the Church today, you can ask, “Where does he stand regarding Joseph Biden?”

Opposition to Biden could mean any number of things, good or bad, but support for Biden means either that the person is woefully ignorant or badly misinformed, or that he has a very distorted set of priorities because he fails to recognize the gravity of institutionalized abortion, sodomy, and transgenderism, or that he might actually be complicit in the evil agenda. Anyone who follows and supports Biden, the supposedly ‘Catholic’ President, is actually separating himself from the truth and reality of the Catholic faith.

Joseph Biden has brought the Church of Modernism, which is the Church of Sodom, into the full light of day for everyone to see. The Church of Modernism puts the Church of human wisdom and human strength in place of the Church of Jesus Christ crucified. In reality the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ crucified, the power of God and the wisdom of God. That is the Catholic Church in reality, which has the promise of the Lord, The gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Mt 16:18)

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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