From the first apology in defense of the Christians      

by

Saint Justin, martyr

 

The celebration of the Eucharist

 

No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

We do not consume the Eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: Do this in memory of me. This is my body. In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: This is my blood. The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us; he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks to the best of his ability, and the people give assent by saying, “Amen.” The Eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, he takes care of all who are in need.

We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.

 

 

For the 26th year, the Nazareth Association is offering $2,000 college/university scholarships for the 2021-2022 academic year.  The following scholarships are offered:  1.  For upper-class students attending a Catholic college/university.  2.  Nursing students attending any accredited nursing program in Michigan.

Further information, criteria, and application form can be found on the Association’s website:  www.nazarethassociation.org.  For answers to questions contact (269)342-1191 or nazarethassn@voyager.net.

The application is due June 1, 2021.

 

The Tri-Parish Pro-Life Ministry invites you to join us in honoring mothers and fathers for giving us life.  During May and June, we will be having Masses said at all three parishes to remember and pray for both our living and deceased parents.  If you would like your loved ones remembered at these Masses, please fill out the form below and drop it in an envelope along with your donation in the collection basket by May 2nd (marked Tri-Parish Pro-Life Ministry).  The names of your loved ones and the contributors will be included in a special insert in the bulletins on May 8th/9th.  Cards will be available at each parish office for you to pick up and present to your living parents to let them know they have been remembered at these Masses.

Masses will be said:               St. Jerome – May 9th, 10:00

                                                                      June 20th, 10:00

                                                St. Joseph –  May 9th, 10:00

                                                                      May 22nd, 5:00

                                                                      June 12th, 5:00

                                                                      June 20th, 10:00

                                                St. Philip –    May 9th, 9:00

                                                                      May 16th, 11:30

                                                                      June 20th, 11:30

                                                                      June 26th, 4:30

————————————————————————–

Please print legibly using full names.  All donations must be received by May 2nd to have names included in the bulletin insert.  Call Cathy Hirzel, 968-4639, if you have questions.

 

Contributor(s) _______________________________ Phone ________________

 

Amount       $1       $5       $10       $20       $_____

       (Checks made out to Tri-Parish Pro-Life Ministry)

 

In memory of/in honor of:

 __________________________________________________________________

 __________________________________________________________________

 __________________________________________________________________

 

“Thank you, Mom and Dad, for the gift of life!”

Dear Friends,

St. Vincent de Paul lived in 17th c Paris France.  And sometimes in the afternoon he liked to take a walk to clear his head.  On one particular afternoon a crying woman ran up to him.  She was inconsolable.  In between the outbursts of tears and sobbing he was able to piece together what had happened.  Her husband that morning had jumped from a bridge into the river beneath.  He had taken his own life.  The woman was broken with grief.  She feared the worst for her husband’s soul.  But in a moment of Heavenly grace, St. Vincent de Paul was given a bit of knowledge of what had happened that morning on the bridge.  He said, “Madam, do not be afraid, in that time and distance as your husband passed from the railing of the bridge to the water’s surface he repented, he is saved.”  Go and pray for him!

On this Divine Mercy Sunday we are reminded that our Lord is always reaching out to us.   Even in that millionth of a second between life and death, he still reaches out to us. In that short span of time, in that millionth of a second this is what the conversation of grace and mercy may have sounded like:

Jesus speaking with a despairing soul:

Jesus:  O soul steeped in darkness, do not despair.  All is not yet lost.  Come and confide in your God, who is love and mercy.

-But the soul, deaf even to this appeal, wraps itself in darkness.

Jesus calls out again:  My child, listen to the voice of your merciful Father.

-In the soul arises this reply:  “For me there is no mercy,” and it falls into greater darkness, a despair which is a foretaste of hell and makes it unable to draw near to God.

Jesus calls to the soul a third time, but the soul remains deaf and blind, hardened and despairing.  Then the mercy of God begins to exert itself, and without any co-operation from the soul, God grants it final grace.  If this too is spurned, God will leave the soul in this self-chosen disposition for eternity.  This grace emerges from the Merciful Heart of Jesus and gives the soul a special light by means of which the soul begins to understand God’s effort; but conversion depends on its own will.  The soul knows that this, for him, is final grace and, should it show even a flicker of good will, the Mercy of God will accomplish the rest.

My omnipotent mercy is active here.  Happy the soul that takes advantage of this grace.

Jesus:  What joy fills My Heart when you return to me.  Because you are weak, I take you in My arms and carry you to the home of My Father.

Soul:  (as if awaking, asks fearfully): Is it possible that there yet is mercy for me?

Jesus:  There is, My child.  You have a special claim on My mercy.  Let it act in your poor soul; let the rays of grace enter your soul; they bring with them light, warmth, and life.

Soul:  But fear fills me at the thought of my sins, and this terrible fear moves me to doubt Your goodness.

Jesus:  My child, all your sins have not wounded My Heart as painfully as your present lack of trust does – that after so many efforts of My love and mercy, you should still doubt My goodness.

Soul:  O Lord, save me Yourself, for I perish.  Be my Savior, O Lord, I am unable to say anything more; my pitiful heart is torn asunder; but You, O Lord…

Jesus does not let the soul finish but, raising it from the ground from the depths of its misery; he leads it into the recesses of His Heart where all its sins disappear instantly, consumed by the flames of love.

Jesus:  Here, soul, are all the treasures of My Heart.  Take everything you need from it.

Soul:  O Lord, I am inundated with Your grace.  I sense that a new life has entered into me and, above all, I feel Your lovein my heart.  That is enough for me.  O Lord, I will glorify the omnipotence of Your mercy for all eternity.  Encouraged by Your goodness, I will confide to You all the sorrows of my heart.

Jesus:  Tell me all, My child, hide nothing from Me, because My loving Heart, the Heart of your Best Friend, is listening to you.

Soul:  O Lord, now I see all my ingratitude and Your goodness.  You were pursuing me with Your grace, while I was frustrating Your benevolence, I see that I deserve the depths of hell for spurning Your graces, Jesus (interrupting):  Do not be absorbed in your misery – you are still too weak to speak of it – but, rather, gaze on My Heart filled with goodness, and be imbued with My sentiments.  Strive for meekness and humility; be merciful to others, as I am to you; and, when you feel your strength failing, if you come to the fountain of mercy to fortify your soul, you will not grow weary on your journey.

Soul:  Now I understand Your mercy, which protects me, and like a brilliant star, leads me into the home of my Father, protecting me from the horrors of hell that I have deserved, not once, but a thousand times.  O Lord, eternity will hardly suffice for me to give due praise to Your unfathomable mercy and Your compassion for me.

(From the Diary of St. Faustina)

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, His Mercy endures forever.

Happy Easter,

Fr. Christopher J.Ankley

 

 

Our elderly brothers and sisters need help receiving food in Calhoun County (Battle Creek area).  Every Friday, Catholic Charities needs volunteers to pick up food boxes at St. Jerome Catholic Church between 9am-10am and deliver to persons in need.  Volunteer Requirements: Must be at least 19 years of age, provide driver’s license, and proof of auto insurance. Background clearances are required for this position.  What a great opportunity to serve. Even once a month will make a difference!    Email jeannineboehm@ccdok.org for more information.

 

 

Dear Friends,

There’s a book entitled, “On the Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ.”  It was written by St. Maximus the Confessor way back in the 6th century.    It seems that St. Maximus had a very interesting mind because in this book there is a very curious Easter analogy.  Fishermen, I think will like this.   In this Easter analogy Maximus sees Satan as a great slimy fish; I picture a snake like eel.  Now this fish swims in the deep dark abyss of the sea.  He terrorizes the ocean bottom.  In this analogy St. Maximus sees Jesus as the bait on the end of a very sharp hook.  This hook attached to a line on a fishing rod is tossed into the deep.  Satan takes the bait and swallows and begins to dive down into the abyss of death.  He thinks he’s won; our Lord, within the tomb of this fish’s belly is in the abyss of death.  But God the Divine Fisherman has the last laugh.  He gives the line a fierce tug and the hook bites deep into the fish’s stomach.  And with another divine tug Satan the slimy fish is hauled up to the shore.  Satan is conquered, sin is conquered, and death is conquered.  Jesus on the end of the hook has been raised from the abyss of death, He lives once again.   And finally, very importantly because of our Lord’s resurrection Heaven has been opened up to us.

Until his resurrection Heaven had been closed to all men and women.  In the preface just before the Holy, Holy, Holy, we’ll hear these words, “Through Him the children of light will rise  to eternal life and the halls of the heavenly Kingdom are thrown open to the faithful; for his Death is our ransom from death, and in his rising the life of all has risen.” And with heaven open we all have the opportunity to become a saint.  When we get to heaven we are a saint.  Sometimes the Church, after much scrutiny, canonizes some of those saints, canonizes certain men and women to hold them up as examples of holiness.  Seven years ago I went to Rome to witness the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.  These two men like all the other canonized were infallibly declared to be in Heaven, adoring and praising God and praying for us.

These two men are very different from each other.  Yet both exhibited heroic virtue and holiness.  St. John Paul was born into a middle class Polish family being the youngest of three.  While St. John was born into a poor share-cropping Italian family being born the fourth of fourteen.  St. John Paul was a globe-trotting pope while St. John tended to stay put.  St. John opened the second Vatican Council from which we are still learning.  St. John Paul played a major role in ending communist rule in Europe.  There is no one pattern of holiness, no one way to be a saint.

When we look at the saints in all their diversity it’s very difficult to find one pattern of holiness.  There is St. Thomas Aquinas, the intellectual, and St. John Vianney who barely made it through the seminary.  There is St. Vincent de Paul, a saint in the city, and there is St. Antony who found sanctity in the harshness and loneliness of the desert.  There is St. Bernard kneeling on the hard stones of Clairvaux in penance for his sins, and there St. Hildegard of Bingen singing and throwing flowers, madly in love with God.  There is St. Joan of Arc, leading armies into war, and there is St. Francis of Assisi, the peacenik.  There is the grave and serious St. Jerome, and there is St. Philip Neri, whose spirituality was based on laughter.

They say that God is an artist and that the saints are his masterpieces and like any artist he likes to change his style, painting his saints in different colors, different styles, and different compositions.  Each saint reflects some aspect of the divine reality.  So what does that mean for us?  It means we should find that specific color, style, and composition of sanctity that God wants to bear through us.  As St. Catherine of Siena once said, “If we become what God has in mind for us we will set the world on fire.” 

At the beginning I spoke of God as the Divine Fisherman.  And with us too he fishes.  Some spiritual writers will say that there is an invisible line with an unseen hook set within our hearts.  And with a gentle tug of this line our Lord calls us to himself.  Now we can respond to this tug on our heart or not, it’s up to us, we have free will.  Do we always respond to that tug, do we always respond to that inspiration to do good, do we always respond to that inspiration to pray, do we always respond to that inspiration to visit someone who needs help. Our Lord has a plan of sanctity for each one of us.  And nothing can interfere with that plan as long as we respond to those tugs on our hearts.  We are free to respond or not.  Those tugs invite us to let Jesus help us to trust more, to love more, to hope more, and to begin again quickly if we fall.

The Easter Resurrection means an elevation of this life to a new heavenly level, a new heavenly perfection, and a new heavenly beauty, a newness that we can’t even begin to imagine.  St. Paul wrote of this in his letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, is what God has prepared for those who love him.”

I have one more fishing story, this time you are the fish, swimming in a murky cloudy dark pond.  Then imagine being hooked by a fisherman and being pulled up out of the water and for one moment you see a world of light and color, light and color that you never imagined possible.  You then wriggle off the hook and fall back into the pond.  You tell your fish friends, “I saw the world up there, a world which I never knew existed.  Yet now compared to that, this ordinary world seems like nothing to me.”

Because of the Easter Resurrection of our Lord, the glory of an unimagined heaven awaits us.  My prayer for us today is that we always respond quickly to those divine tugs on our heart.  If we let Him our Risen Lord will make us a saint and lead us to the glory of Heaven.

Happy Easter,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

One day, a great prince from a faraway kingdom came to a very remote and poor village.  There was great rejoicing at his arrival.  The people of the village welcomed him warmly and arranged a great feast.  The prince stayed with the people of that village for some time; loving them, caring for them, eating with them, and sharing with them stories of his Father’s Kingdom.

After sometime he shared one last meal with the villagers.  He explained that the time had come for him to go back to his Father.  He promised to prepare a place for them, and invited each one of them to follow after Him.  He explained that there would be great rejoicing in His Father’s kingdom upon their arrival.

Before He left, He gave instructions to the village’s wise man, instructions for the people to follow, in order to enter His Father’s Kingdom.  The Prince also left a supply of crosses, and told the wise man that anyone who would come and follow after Him, would need to carry a cross.  They would need to carry a cross in order to enter the kingdom.

And so after that final meal he left them and returned to His kingdom.

After a time, an elder of the village decided he would make the journey to the Prince’s kingdom.  He went to the wise man who explained the path he had to follow, and gave him one of the crosses, explaining that he would need the cross with him in order to enter the kingdom.

The man began his journey, dragging the heavy cross along the path into the woods.  It was very difficult for him to travel with the cross.  After several hours of struggle, he came upon a woodcutter’s hut.  And he devised a plan to make the journey easier.  He went inside, grabbed an axe and used it to chop off a length from each beam.  The shorter cross was easier to handle, and so he continued on his way.

It was late in the day when he reached the edge of a great river.  He could see a beautiful kingdom on the other side.  People there spotted him and began rejoicing at his arrival.  They instructed him to place his cross over the river and use it to cross over into the kingdom.  They would prepare a great feast for him.  The man lay his cross down, but it was too short to reach to the other side. He fell with it into the water and disappeared in the current.

Some days later, another villager felt called to make the journey to the Prince’s kingdom.  He went to visit the wise man and get his instructions.  The wise man gave him careful instructions for the journey and explained that he must carry a cross with him, because it would be required to enter the kingdom.

The man began his journey early the next morning, dragging the cross with him into the woods.  He too found it very difficult to move forward while carrying the heavy cross. It was several hours before he came to the woodcutter’s hut.  And he too came up with a plan to make his journey more bearable.

He went inside, found an axe, and split the beams of his cross to lighten its weight.  He continued on his journey, much relieved about the less burdensome cross he carried.  Finally, he came to a great river.  He could see a great kingdom on the other side.  People on the other side spotted him and began rejoicing.  They shouted instructions to him to place his cross across the river and use it as a bridge to pass over the water.  He lay the cross down, and began to walk over it, but the split beams were too weak to hold his weight.  The cross broke and he was swept away in the current of the great river.

Several days later, a very frail old villager felt it was her time to make the journey to the Prince’s kingdom.  She went to visit the village wise man.  She carefully received the instructions and obediently accepted the cross.  But it was all she could do to move the cross forward inch by inch.  After a day and a half and after many stops for resting she finally reached the woodcutter’s hut.  She went inside the cabin and saw all the axes and saws.  And she was very tempted to shorten her cross, but then she reasoned, saying to herself, “No, I was given this specific cross for a reason.  The wise man deliberated long and hard to choose just the right cross for me.”

She rested there for the night, and started out again the next morning.  The cross was still heavy but she was refreshed from the night’s rest.  And that day she even met a hiker who helped carry her cross for a time, she didn’t do it alone.   It was late afternoon when she came to the edge of the great river.  She could see a beautiful kingdom on the other side.  The people who had been working in the fields saw her and began to rejoice.  They called to her and told her to place her cross over the river, and use it to come over to their side.  The frail woman laid the cross over the river and walked over it to reach the other side.  There, they wrapped her in fine robes and prepared a feast for her.  The Prince and His Father welcomed her and gave her a place that they had prepared just for her.

Pick up your cross and follow the way of Jesus, His cross, our cross, is the bridge to Heaven.

Pax et Bonum,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

During my first semester of seminary we had a course in early Church history.  This course was taught by the Dean of Studies, Fr. Palardy.  Fr. Palardy was a brilliant scholar earning his undergraduate degree from Harvard in just three years before entering the seminary and he was also a diehard Red Sox fan.  You always knew when the Red Sox were playing because on game days you could see red socks poking out from beneath his black pants.   He did that to goad the Yankee fans in our class.  And they were goaded.  Very early on in the course when we were beginning to learn about the Church Fathers he brought in an icon of St. Ignatius of Antioch.  This icon, he told us, hung above his desk and it showed St. Ignatius standing between two lions.  One lion is biting into Ignatius’ neck while the other lion is biting into his leg, not very inspiring.  On tough days, however, Fr. Palardy told us that he would look at this icon and think to himself, “It’s not so bad.”  Maybe we all need this icon.

St. Ignatius was a disciple of St. John the evangelist.  He learned the faith from the man who rested his head upon the heart of our Lord.  Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch for forty years before being arrested and martyred for being a Christian.  After his arrest he was interrogated and at this questioning he was asked, “Do you worship as God this Jesus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate?” Ignatius immediately answers, “Yes” and then he added, “By his death Jesus has crucified both sin and its author, and has proclaimed that all malice of the devil should be trodden under foot by those who bear Him in their hearts.”  This prompted the government official to ask, “Do you really carry this Jesus about within you?” Ignatius answers, “Yes, for it is written that Jesus said, ‘I will dwell within them and I will walk with them.’”  For this testimony and for refusing to worship the false gods of Rome, Ignatius was sent to Rome to be killed by wild animals.  He was to be killed for the entertainment of the Roman crowds.  He would later say, “I am God’s grain and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.”

This statement of Jesus which Ignatius repeats to the interrogator, “I will dwell in them and walk with them” was prophesied by Jeremiah 700 years earlier at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction when its leading citizens were forced into exile.  We heard it in the first reading, “The days are coming says the Lord when I will make a new covenant… I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts.”  This passage from Jeremiah has sometimes been called the Gospel before the Gospel and it’s a landmark in Old Testament theology.

Jesus fulfilled this new and everlasting covenant the night before he died and we hear His words at every Mass.  When I’m bowed over the chalice I repeat the words of Jesus saying, “Take this all of you, and drink from it, for this is the Chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” This is a pledge of mutual love and a wedding vow is being made, our Lord is saying to each and every one of us with this covenant, “I’m yours and you’re mine.”

The Jewish people of the Old Testament found it hard to follow the law. They couldn’t live up to it. And they repeatedly failed.  But Jeremiah predicts that one day God will write the law on their heart and then they’ll be able to fulfill the law.  Jesus speaks this new covenant at the Last Supper speaking the words over the cup of his blood, the cup of his life.  Jesus Christ is the Law made flesh.  And every time we take Him into our bodies, every time we take him into our souls we are becoming more and more conformed to the Law which is being more and more written into our hearts.  The Eucharist Christifies us, the Eucharist conforms us to His life.  When we consume the Eucharist we are not only taking in our Lord, we are also taking into ourselves the Law made flesh and He now dwells within our hearts.

The law that was once written on tablets of stone but now through Christ it’s being written within the flesh of our hearts and we carry this law wherever we go and this gives us a responsibility.  St. Ignatius was a writer and we still have seven of his letters.  And they’re very important letters giving us a glimpse of early Christianity.  At the time the Canon of the Bible was being assembled some thought his letters should be included.  I urge you to read them.    To the Ephesians Ignatius wrote of the Holy Eucharist, calling it the flesh of Christ, the Gift of God, and the Medicine of Immortality.  And to receive the Eucharist is to make us beholden to our neighbor. And he wrote this about our neighbor:  “In face of their outbursts of wrath be meek; in face of their boastful words be humble; meet their reviling with prayers; where they are in error be steadfast in faith; in face of their fury be gentle.  Be not eager to retaliate upon them.  Let our forbearance prove us their brethren.  Let us endeavor to be imitators of the Lord that no rank weed of the Devil is found in you.  But in all purity and sobriety abide in Christ Jesus in flesh and in spirit.”   Let Christ live within your heart.

St. Ignatius was martyred within a Roman amphitheater in the year AD 107.  He was killed by hungry lions as the crowds cheered.  But he lives on not only in his letters but more importantly he lives on in the eternal bliss of Heaven where he praises God and intercedes on our behalf.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

Dear Friends,

When we come to Eucharistic Adoration, when we come to pray in the presence of the Eucharist within the monstrance, or we come and sit in the church before the Eucharist housed in the tabernacle, in doing these acts of worship, we imitate our patron St. Joseph.  His vocation was one of perpetual adoration.  He kept his eyes on Jesus, even before Jesus was born he kept his eyes on Jesus, first by caring for Mary and watching over her, the first Tabernacle, and then after his birth protecting, housing, feeding, teaching, and loving Jesus.

As we know Joseph and Mary find Jesus after three days, they find him in the Temple.  But when we think about it, they’ve had the new Temple with them for 12 years.  They’ve adored him already for 12 years.  Focusing on our patron, St. Peter Julian Eymard put it this way, “St. Joseph was the first adorer, the first religious.  Although he never adored our Lord under the Eucharistic species and never had the happiness of receiving Holy Communion, he did possess and adore Jesus in human form.”  He goes on to say, “In Joseph, we find the perfect adorer, entirely consecrated to Jesus, working always near Jesus, giving Jesus his virtues, his time, his very life; it is thus that he is our model and our inspiration.”

St. Joseph was an adorer of great faith.  When he looked at Jesus he saw human flesh, but in his heart he believed, “Here is God!”  We pray to have that same faith, when we look at the Eucharist, we see bread, but in our hearts we believe, “Here is God!”  Under the veil of Bread our faith must see our Lord.  Ask St. Joseph for his lively and constant faith.  Pray for us St. Joseph to have the faith you had here on earth.

In 1997 Pope St. John Paul II conducted a papal visit to the Shrine of St. Joseph in Kalisz in Poland and he told those in attendance that, before each of his Masses, he prayed the following prayer to St. Joseph.

O happy man, St. Joseph, whose privilege it was not only to see and hear that God whom many a king has longed to see, yet saw not, longed to hear, yet heard not, but also to carry him in your arms and kiss him, to clothe him and watch over him!                 O God, who has conferred upon us a royal priesthood, we pray to you to give us grace to minister at your holy altars with hearts as clean and lives as blameless as that blessed Joseph who was found to hold in his arms and, with all reverence, carry your only-begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary.  Enable us this day to receive worthily the sacred Body and Blood of your son, and equip us to win an everlasting reward in the world to come.  Amen

Peace and all good,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley

 

Dear Friends,

In today’s Gospel we hear of the cleansing of the Temple.  Jesus deeply loved the Jerusalem temple.  He had been brought there by Mary and Joseph as a newborn baby and he probably went to the temple time and again throughout his life for the many pilgrim feasts.  We know that as a twelve year old he had remained there, and when his parents finally found him in the temple, he asked them in astonishment, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  For Jesus, the temple was his Father’s house, and that’s why he felt so at home there.  That was also why he couldn’t bear to see it turned into a house of materialism and commercialism.  And in a holy wrath he cleansed the temple.

For the pious Jew of that time the Temple meant everything.  It was not only the religious center but also the political center, the social center, the cultural center, and the economic center. The Temple was the place where God dwelled and from where the nation was governed.  In its full glory it was the center of Jewish Society.  And so here comes this prophet from Nazareth, in their eyes he’s a nobody, from a nowhere place.  And he begins to make a ruckus, he cries out, he shouts, he makes a whip of cord, he scatters the animals, and he turns things over.  If this were to happen today in St. Peter’s the man would be hustled off to the police very quickly.    Historians say that this was the act that sealed our Lord’s fate on Good Friday.

And so after the ruckus and wanting a reason for it all the Jews ask Jesus, “What sign can you give us?”  And Jesus answers as we know, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  They totally misunderstand, because only enemies would destroy their temple.  Throughout the centuries anytime an enemy invaded Jerusalem the Temple was destroyed.  Only an enemy would tear it down.  So what is Jesus telling them and us?  This Gospel today shows us who he is.  First, Jesus demonstrates the authority of God.  He’s making a divine judgment of corruption.  This cleansing of the Temple identifies Jesus as God.  Second, Jesus is instituting a New Temple, after

three days he raises the Temple of his own body.  He’s telling them and us, “I am God’s dwelling place among you.”  Something totally new is happening.  Jesus is the mystical body onto which we are grafted, and once grafted by baptism we become Temples of the Holy Spirit.

March 7th is the Feast day of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity. In the early church they were often cited as examples of what it meant to be a temple of the Holy Spirit.   They lived in North Africa and they were martyred in the year 203 and for 100s of years they were the rock stars of sanctity.  Their story of heroism was wildly popular.  St. Augustine also from North Africa would get mad because his people wanted to hear more about them than his sermons.  There is so much in their story, read it if you get a chance.  Now Perpetua and Felicity were still catechumen, they were still studying the faith, when they were arrested, they hadn’t even been baptized yet when they were taken to prison.  Felicity was a slave while Perpetua was an aristocrat.  Both were new moms, Perpetua had recently given birth, while Felicity gave birth in prison.  Now while in prison they were secretly baptized by their teacher who voluntarily turned himself in so as to finish their education.   Everyday Perpetua’s father, a leading man of the city came by trying to convince her to give up this foolishness of Christianity, offer a little incense to the gods and you can leave, he would say.   But Perpetua always refused and one day she said to her father holding up a pot, “Do you see  this water pot?  … Can it be called by any other name than what it is?  No he replied.  So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am – a Christian.”

At their trial both Perpetua and Felicity were found guilty of being Christians and they were condemned to be taken to the amphitheater for the public games and to be killed by wild animals.  They were mortally wounded by a wild ox and then they were beheaded.  If you look for their images in historic pieces of art many times they are shown with a wild cow in the background.    Something, as a former vet I would notice.

In today’s Gospel we read of oxen, sheep, and doves and for early Christians these animals came to represent certain human sins and weaknesses.  Oxen which are used for digging up the earth, getting it ready for planting, signify earthly desires; sheep which are sometimes considered stupid animals, signify man’s obstinacy; and the dove they sometimes saw as signifying man’s instability, his flightiness.  The wild ox of earthly desires could not destroy Perpetua and Felicity.  God was their number one, no amount of enticement by their families could change their minds.  They were baptized and their souls were made temples of the Holy Spirit, so while the bull could kill their bodies it couldn’t kill their soul.  Their souls had been grafted to the New Temple of the Mystical Body of Jesus.  So in our Gospel today in the cleansing of the Temple we see Jesus wiping away earthly desires, obstinacy, and instability.

So what can we say of ourselves during this season of lent.  Are we letting our Lord actively dwell within the temple of our soul?  Are we letting our Lord cleanse it more and more of earthly forces and tendencies, and attitudes, and influences?  What table are we letting him overturn, what thieves is he kicking out, what animals are being scattered?  The soul of a Christian is beautiful, one of the most beautiful things there is, and it’s meant to be a place where God actively dwells.

To paraphrase St. Perpetua let us not call ourselves by any other name than that of Christian.

Let us be great Saints,

Fr. Christopher Ankley