28 February 2018

'I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.' Sunday Reflections, 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year B

Christ Driving the Money-changers from the Temple 
Rembrandt [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel John 2:13-25 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money-changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.

The readings for Year A may be used instead of those above.

Bus Éireann buses [Wikipedia]

Last Sunday afternoon I took the Bus Éireann bus from Dublin Airport to St Columban's, Dalgan Park, where I'm living, a journey of about one hour and twenty minutes. As I was getting off I told the driver that I love travelling by bus because I see so many acts of kindness and humanity and that he himself was a good example of that. Almost everyone in Ireland says 'Thank you' to the driver as they get off, an act of kindness and gratitude, but I could see that the driver I spoke to was surprised and delighted at my compliment.

One of his acts of thoughtfulness and kindness was at Dunshaughlin, a small town near our place. Nobody was waiting at the stop there and nobody on the bus had rung the bell to indicate that they wished to get off there. However, when we had to stop at the traffic lights about 100 metres ahead two young men approached the driver and sheepishly told him that they had missed the stop and asked him if he could let them off there. 'I think we can manage that', he said, and opened the door.

It was a simple act of kindness and the driver wasn't causing any danger to anyone or holding up traffic. But he could easily have said to the young men that he would let them off at the next stop about 400 metres away. After all, it was their mistake, not his. 

However, he was a man with a sense of service, with a sense of humour and with a sense of decency. In Ashbourne, another town we passed through, when an elderly man got on the driver had a brief chat with him making the man feel that he was a 'fellow pilgrim on the journey through life', as it were, not just an anonymous passenger travelling to Navan.

Over my years in the Philippines I heard far too many stories of officials who make it extremely difficult for members of the public, especially poorer ones, and who use delaying tactics unless something is passed across the counter. Sometimes it may be that an official is over-strict or just officious. Today's media in Ireland and Britain (27 February) carry a story about a five-year-old girl who was turned away at a doctor's office in Britain, despite it being an emergency, because she was late. The girl died later in hospital.

In today's Gospel Jesus uses physical force to show his utter disgust at the Temple being used as a market. He knew that some of these people took advantage of those who were poor. There are such persons in every community, some who are corrupt, some who are over-officious, with a sense of power.

Jesus was emphasising the sacredness of the Temple, the only place where Jews offered sacrifices to God. 

But the First Reading links worship with daily life. It gives us the Ten Commandments, which spell out how our relationship with God and our relationship with those around us are intertwined. When the connection is not made evil follows, as the death of Floribert Bwana Chui in the video above shows.

I knew of a provincial engineer in the Philippines who was never promoted. The reason? He used all the money allotted to build an excellent road about 50 years ago between two towns, by far the best at the time in his own and in the neighbouring provinces. No 'brown envelopes'. No kickbacks. Every centavo allotted went into the road. Many of my fellow Columban priests knew this man and told me of his deep faith and integrity.

When we truly worship God at Mass and on other occasions in the church or other designated sacred places, we come to see that every place, every situation, is meant to be sacred also. My mother more than once in scolding me said, House devil, street angel! In effect she was calling me to integrity, the kind of integrity I saw, for example, in my father's life.

St Paul, so to speak, nails the life of the follower of Jesus to the Cross in today's Second ReadingWe proclaim Christ crucified. The sacrifices offered in the Temple foreshadowed the Sacrifice of Jesus in which all of us share each time we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. God calls some, after strengthening their faith especially through the Eucharist and his Word, to share literally in the Sacrifice of Jesus. Floribert Bwana Chui was one of those. 

Pope Francis has spoken frequently about the martyrs of our time. On 6 February 2015, the feast day of the Martyrs of Japan, he saidI think of our martyrs, the martyrs of our times, men, women, children who are being persecuted, hated, driven out of their homes, tortured, massacred.  And this is not a thing of the past: this is happening right now. It would do us good to think of our martyrs. Today, we remember Paolo Miki, but that happened in 1600. Think of our present-day ones! Of 2015.

We can see clearly the martyrdom of someone killed simply for being a Christian. There have been many such martyrs in recent years in the Middle East, in parts of Africa and Latin America. What we don't see so clearly, perhaps, is that a person who is killed for refusing to give a bribe, for refusing to tell a lie, for refusing to cooperate in crime, for demanding and working for justice, is also a martyr. There are many such persons such as Floribert Bwana Chui. 

Clement Shahbaz Bhatti [Wikipedia]
(9 September 1968 - 2 March 2011)

Another such is Clement Shahbaz Bhatti, the Pakistani politician assassinated on 2 March 2011. I wrote about him last week but on the occasion of his death anniversary I wish to highlight his life and death again because he saw his life as a politician as his vocation in following Christ, a vocation he discovered on a Good Friday when he was 13:

My name is Shahbaz Bhatti. I was born into a Catholic family. My father, a retired teacher, and my mother, a housewife, raised me according to Christian values and the teachings of the Bible, which influenced my childhood. Since I was a child, I was accustomed to going to church and finding profound inspiration in the teachings, the sacrifice, and the crucifixion of Jesus. It was his love that led me to offer my service to the Church.

The frightening conditions into which the Christians of Pakistan had fallen disturbed me. I remember one Good Friday when I was just thirteen years old: I heard a homily on the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and for the salvation of the world. And I thought of responding to his love by giving love to my brothers and sisters, placing myself at the service of Christians, especially of the poor, the needy, and the persecuted who live in this Islamic country.
I have been asked to put an end to my battle, but I have always refused, even at the risk of my own life. My response has always been the same. I do not want popularity, I do not want positions of power. I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ.
Floribert Bwan Chui, whom I learned about three years ago, and Shahbaz Bhatti, whom I have written about many times, understood how the Temple and the 'Marketplace' - the latter in its proper 'location' - are related in terms of following Jesus. And they both embodied fully the vision of Vatican II for the lay person:
For man, created to God's image, received a mandate to subject to himself the earth and all it contains, and to govern the world with justice and holiness; a mandate to relate himself and the totality of things to Him Who was to be acknowledged as the Lord and Creator of all. Thus, by the subjection of all things to man, the name of God would be wonderful in all the earth.
This mandate concerns the whole of everyday activity as well. For while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society. They can justly consider that by their labor they are unfolding the Creator's work, consulting the advantages of their brother men, and are contributing by their personal industry to the realization in history of the divine plan (Gaudium et Spes, 34).

The poem in the video above, with the text below, is in the edition of The Divine Office (The Breviary) used in Australia, England & Wales and Ireland.

Robert Herrick (1591–1674)

Is this a fast,—to keep
    The larder lean,      
        And clean     
From fat of veals and sheep?    

Is it to quit the dish              
    Of flesh, yet still      
        To fill     
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,    
    Or ragg’d to go,               
        Or show
A downcast look, and sour?     

No! ’t is a fast to dole  
    Thy sheaf of wheat,
        And meat,              
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,       
    From old debate      
        And hate,—  
To circumcise thy life.         

To show a heart grief-rent;      
    To starve thy sin,    
        Not bin,—     
And that ’s to keep thy Lent.     

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