Rorate Caeli

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem as we weep for the Liturgy of the Church

 Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

And they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation. (Matthew 24:2)

Today’s gospel is not a parable, it is not a specific teaching of Jesus. It is one of the most dramatic scenes in the Gospel: Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem as he enters the city and the driving out of the money changers from the Temple.  What can we make of this scene?  What does it mean for us?  It is true that it describes a particular event in Jesus’ history and that it can be analyzed in this way.  But the Gospel at Mass is not merely to give information of Jesus’ life. The gospel is the making present of Christ as the living Word, that Word that has to speak to us and penetrate our hearts.

The context is always important.  Jesus weeps over Jerusalem as he enters the holy city on Palm Sunday. This is the beginning of the events of the Passion and Death of the Lord.  Despite the shouts of hosannas from the crowd, Jesus knows that he enters Jerusalem for the last time, that this entrance is the beginning of those events that will lead to his crucifixion.  The hosannas break his heart, for he knows that they bear no meaning, he knows that his preaching and teaching has not borne fruit among his own people, he knows that the very religious and political center of his people has rejected him and await to do what has to be done to get rid of him.  And he feels the deep irony:  the city whose name bears the name of peace, jeru shalom, has not a clue as to what peace is all about, that peace that is the very presence of God. And he predicts the destruction of the city and therefore the religious heart of the city, the temple, with its symbol of the presence of God, with its daily offerings of animal sacrifices for the sins of the people. And he weeps, he weeps because Jerusalem did not recognize the time of its visitation, that is, the moment when the very truth and peace of God tented among his people to give them that salvation for which they always longed.

Jesus goes right up to the temple, for there is the heart of the matter, there is where the presence of God was, there the teaching of the Law, there the sacrifices for sin.  And the Lord comes to his temple.  He came into this temple when he was a baby, when Mary and Joseph brought him to be redeemed and blessed forty days after his birth, that event we commemorate every year as the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple, or Candlemass, when we hear Simeon’s song,” Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.  For my eyes have seen thy salvation”.  And now he comes to the temple to do what has to be done before he starts on the road to Calvary:  to teach and preach within this center of the Jewish faith and culture, to teach and preach not as one of the scribes or Pharisees, but with the authority of God himself.  

But before he begins this last phase of his life, he cleanses the temple by driving out the sellers and money changers.  “My house shall be a house of prayer; you have made it a den of robbers”.  Who were these sellers and money changers? They were in the temple precincts for practical reasons:  they sold the small and big animals that the people would then bring to the priest to offer as a sacrifice for their sins.  And the money changers were there to make sure that everyone had the right change to pay the one shekel temple tax.  They must have been there in the past times Jesus had visited the temple.  But this time was different:  The line from the temple to the Cross was in place:  the symbolic presence of God in the temple, the daily sacrifices:  all these shadows were about to be replaced with the reality of the fullness of the truth of God and the Lamb of God who will offer himself once and for all for the sins of the world.  So the cleansing of the temple is a symbolic act, the signal that the end of the shadows had come and the beginning of the light of God in the world as a real presence.

“Types and shadows have their ending”, so wrote St Thomas Aquinas.  The temple was razed to the ground by the Romans in 70 AD and was never rebuilt.  And the Christian understanding is that the Church took the place of the temple, for it is the Church as the body of Christ in which the real presence of God in Word and Sacrament is known and experienced in the world of time and place, the world of history.  And it is the worship of the Church that fulfills the daily sacrifices of the temple by the Mass, which is the renewal of the one, true and eternal sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, the source of life and love.

And yet Jesus’ act of purification of the temple reminds us as well of the need for purification of the Church.  Church history even read cursively shows times in which the human structure of the Church threatened to stifle her very life, corruption far beyond money-changers and sellers.  These past 40 years have been one of those times when corruption at the human level of the Church has threatened the efficacy of the missionary effort of the Church and has wounded Her deeply.  For this is church corruption as reality, from the horrific acts of sexual abuse committed by Catholic clergy that have destroyed lives and families, to the subculture within the Church that allowed these priests to flourish in the bosom of holy Church, to the corruption of the Shepherds who refused to protect their people from wolves and who prefer payouts to truth. 

And today we face a deeper, if that is possible, threat to the very fabric of the Church, that fabric that is her liturgy, the very worship of God in the Church,  The publication of Traditionis Custodes, the Motu Proprio of Pope Francis that dared to make null and void Pope Benedict’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum that declared the obvious truth that  the Traditional Roman Mass of the ages could never be abrogated as a form of worship in the Catholic Church.  We now live in a time in which the Mass we celebrate here today has been declared as something now foreign to the body of the Church and that the Novus Ordo form of the Mass to be the only true form of the Roman Mass: this has no basis in fact nor faith  as if what we do here at this moment in this church has no relevance to the worship of God in the Catholic Church.  This corruption of the understanding of the liturgy of the Catholic Church is deeper than that of the moral corruption of the clergy. 

And yet that real corruption of the human face of the Church, and the corruption that is the sin of those entrusted with the God-given  power to exercise authority over the Church on earth, but also our own personal sin, can never and does never prevent the saving grace of God to be truly present in his Church.  The faith of the people, despite being shaken by these events, endures.  The mission of the Church to bring Jesus Christ to all peoples of the world, despite cynicism and broken hearts among her priests and bishops, and despite the suffering of the faithful laity,  goes on every time the Gospel is heard and preached, every time a cup of cold water is given to someone thirsty in the name of Christ, and in particular every time someone is deeply moved by the beauty of the Traditional Roman Mass,.  And the Real Presence of Christ, imparting healing and saving grace to each of us here, still resides in humble glory in our tabernacle in this church  and in all of the tabernacles of the world.  And for this and the reality of grace among us every day of our lives, we can only say: Deo gratias.

Father Richard Gennaro Cipolla