Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Lent

Readings: Ex 20:1-17; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25

When I went to visit the shrine of Lourdes in 1973, I approached it not knowing what to expect. My initial impression was not a good one. Approaching the entrance to the grounds required walking past what seemed like miles of religious goods stands selling every kind of trinket imaginable. As I walked along, various sellers would come right up to me with all sorts of plastic containers to use in collecting the miraculous water. But then, finally, the main entrance to the shrine opened onto an expanse of buildings and green park which just glowed with a sense of serenity, prayer and peacefulness. The faith of the people gathered there radiated all over. The sense of prayer was almost palpable. One’s heart could not help but be deeply touched. Mine certainly was. But, no matter how long one stayed, there were still all those trinket shops to be passed again on the way out and the sellers to be negotiated.

Religion, economics and politics don’t mix easily. I suspect if those trinket shops were on the grounds of the Lourdes shrine itself, my feelings would have been much more conflicted. I imagine that’s what happened in the Jerusalem Temple to set off Jesus’ angry outburst and lead him to drive the money-changers out altogether. Unfortunately things haven’t changed a great deal these days along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. When we go to visit a holy place, we don’t want it sullied with all sorts of cheap economics and trinkets. That does create anger and a feeling of disgust. Anger and disgust usually result in fuzzy and rash thinking. And we always need to be wary of that.

Sadly, we are seeing way too much indiscriminate religious/political mixing in the current presidential campaign. There isn’t much likelihood that things are going to improve in coming months. Religion, economics and politics are getting mixed together so much so that it is hard to tell which is which. We aren’t even sure who to drive out of the Temple. I certainly don’t intend to give you any tips about the upcoming elections. But I would like to offer a couple of observations that flow from today’s gospel passage....while keeping in mind the current political climate.

The first is the powerful (though painful) realization that it’s almost impossible to completely separate religion, economics and politics. Most of us would surely like to have our religion pure and unsullied, unmixed with all kinds of worldly doings. But in the Christian perspective where the divine and the human intermingle in everything, that won’t happen. We need to accept that, even though it’s very hard to do. The trinket sellers are always going to be there right aside of the holy places. Our challenge is to accept that, be moderate about it, and sift through things to appreciate the "holy" in the "murky." The "holy" is there in the murky, but it needs to be actively sought.

A second observation is one that I have found hard to teach myself: stop and question if people can really deliver what they promise? In this political environment you hear candidates promising great things: if I am President, we will have $2 a gallon gasoline. Well, how are you going to do that? Even if you are president, you have no control over the actual factors that determine gas prices. The same is true in religion: can people deliver what they promise? There are lots of TV shows that promise Christian faith and huge economic prosperity. I don’t see any of that in the New Testament. The early Christian kerygma promised the cross and a hope of Resurrection. It’s like St. Paul wrote in the passage of 1 Cor. we just heard: "We preach Christ Crucified"....and a hope of resurrection. We need to remind ourselves: that’s still the Christian message today.

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