The Third Sunday of Lent
March 2, 1997
There's a popular heresy floating today that because we are such an enlightened,
conscientious, sensitive, and democratic people, the Commandments have been reduced to suggestions. So
that basically it's your choice, i.e. it's a matter of your conscience alone, whether or not you want to follow the Ten
Commandments. This, of course, is not what the Church teaches. It is, however, a more and more popular
perspective. When the Church proclaims what she believes , and how we are to live, especially today, for example,
when we hear the Commandments articulated in the Gospel, the response of some folks is: "That's just being legalistic,
if I was really a free, enlightened person, I wouldn't be bound by those kinds of rules."
You know, I used to study physics, and it was interesting because in physics when
you came across a new rule, like force equals mass times acceleration, people saw that as a good
thing. They saw it as a good thing because it enabled you to understand a little more deeply some essential characteristic
of the nature of reality. Physicists who were able to derive more and more of the rules were not accused
in the physics journals of being legalistic. They were accused of being Nobel Laureates, because they were
revealing to people something more and more fundamental about the nature of reality.
The Ten Commandments do the same thing for us, because in what they command us to
do, or in what they command us not to do, they reveal to us fundamental aspects of the nature of reality. This is what
married life is suppose to be like, so you shall not commit adultery. This is how people are suppose to
feel secure in their property so you shall not steal. Life is sacred so you shall not murder. The
rules God gives us are like the rules built into the fabric of the natural universe itself. God gives them to us in
order that we might understand who He is, who we are, and how we're suppose to relate to Him. If a person jumps out
of a twenty-story widow and says, "I deny the law of gravity because it's too legalistic", the law of
gravity will still have it's effect. He can deny it all the way down, and he will still continue to accelerate at nine
point eight meters per second squared until impact. No matter how strenuous his denial it won't slow him down in the
least. We can say that the Ten Commandments don't apply to us, but if we violate them, the consequence of that
violation will have just as much an effect in our lives as if we tried to deny gravity. This is because it is God's will
that puts together how the universe runs-how the moral life runs.
Usually legalistic attitudes are in some way connected with following the law based
on fear--fear of the authority behind the law, and that's seen as being a bad thing. Well, to a certain extent,
it can be, but if we also believe that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then there's also
a sense in which it's not such a bad thing. It would be wonderful if we did not sin because we did not want to
offend God Who is all good and deserving of all of our love. That's what we're aiming for, perfect contrition.
However, if we don't sin because we're afraid of going to Hell, at least we're not sinning! Imperfect contrition is still
sufficient for absolution. Obviously what we want and what we focus on during a time like Lent is for the Lord Jesus to
draw us more deeply into His Sacred Heart so that we are so consumed with zealous love for Him that our love for Him
and our desire to see Him praised and glorified is enough to motivate all of our responses. But Jesus, Who as the
Gospel says, knows what's in our hearts, also built into the Gospel provisions that make it clear that there are
consequences that we would choose to avoid. These consequences might be enough to keep us on the straight and narrow, even
when love for Him is not enough. If we continue to plead with Him to give us more and more love for Him, then we will
understand more deeply, we will grow into that greater and greater freedom of the sons and daughters of God that He
has for us. But at no time does that freedom enable us to walk away from the structure of the universe that He's
given to us, especially as it's expressed in the Commandments themselves. Jesus gives us those Commandments and
says 'This is reality, ignore it at your peril. Follow it and you will discover who you are, and you will live as
you were meant to be and you will not live chained under law, but you will live in the freedom of cooperating with
the nature of your creation itself.'
In the Gospel today we see Jesus responding to situation in the Temple. It's particularly interesting when you couple
it with what He said to the Samaritan Women. In the conversation with Him, the women at the well says: 'the Jews say
we're supposed to worship in Jerusalem.' Jesus says to her, 'the time is coming when you will not worship
either here or in Jerusalem, because God wants those who will worship in Spirit and in Truth.' This
statement seems in some way to belittle the presence of the Temple, but then in the Gospel today we see Him driving
out the sheep and the oxen, overturning the coins, and we are reminded that zeal for His Father's house will
consume Jesus. What is His house today? This is His House today. Is He any less zealous about this place than He
was about the great Temple in Jerusalem? It might have been a little better decorated. We can't afford a gold ceiling--or a ceiling at all. But the bottom line is the Presence of the Father that was in that Temple was substantially
less than the Presence of the Son Who is here, because the actual real Presence of the Lord Jesus is here.
This Temple, like every Catholic Church (especially those that still have a Tabernacle) is of infinitely greater value
to God than any other structure on the planet, because Jesus Himself dwells here in the fullness of His Presence.
Zeal for this house consumes Him, as zeal for the Temple did, if not more. One of the things that we need to realize
and appreciate is what that means practically for us. From time to time over the last couple of weeks, months,
we shared about the different teachings of the Church on how to appropriately respect and reverence the Presence
of the Lord Jesus during the Mass, during the Concentration, His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, etc. From
time to time I get e-mail accusing me of being legalistic once again. The bottom line is Jesus invites us to be as
zealous for His house as He is. The rules that the Church gives us about how to approach that are rules that are
meant to show us: this is Who we are worshipping; this is how we should respond to Him.