Friday, November 20, 2015

An Abomination in the Temple


Tomorrow is the memorial of the Presentation of Mary. This legend, which we have no way of knowing whether it is true or not, is only found in a apocryphal text called the Protoevangelium of James. While there is no requirement that we believe in it, it still teaches some very important truths. That is why it has been celebrated in Christian churches for nearly 1500 years. Documents show that it was celebrated at least as early as the 6th century. In the story, Mary is dedicated to the temple at the age of three. A pure offering. Immaculate Mary was offered to God to serve him for life. That is not all we can learn from this story, but even if it was it would make it worth while! That it is important for us to work towards becoming Saint, and that we must also dedicate our entire lives to serving the Lord.

In the first reading we see more of the story of the Maccabean revolt. Antiochus has failed to beat down the rebellion and they have fortified the city from his attacks. Here he lies on his death bed, filled with sorrow. He realizes he has defiled the temple for no reason. He has done the exact opposite of what we see in the Presentation. Instead of serving God in his temple, he has defiled the temple. He has put the things he wants in there, not what God wants. Instead of serving God at his altar, he served his own altars, and in the end it caused ruin, anguish, and he began to die from his own grief.

What does that have to do with the story in the Gospel? Here we see the Sadducees testing Jesus again. How do you tell the Sadducees from the Pharisees? Well the Pharisees believe in life after death. The Sadducees do not believe in life after death. That's why they are sad, you see? I know, I know.. I groaned too the first time I heard that joke. Here the Sadducees asked Jesus what happens when a woman, who had been married seven different times, and widowed every time... finally dies and goes to this life after death. They weren't asking because they really wanted to know. After all, they didn't believe in life after death. Rather, they thought that had come up with a situation where Jesus would sound so silly trying to explain it that people would stop listening to them. Jesus, being wise and knowledgeable, of course answers with a very beautiful answer.

Jesus said to them,
“The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise.
That the dead will rise
even Moses made known in the passage about the bush,
when he called ‘Lord’
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;
and he is not God of the dead, but of the living,
for to him all are alive.”

To understand that answer though, it helps to understand the nature of Sacramental Marriage. We as Catholics believe that marriage is a Sacrament. The Catechism of our church says that a Sacrament is “ an efficacious sign of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is 'dispensed' to us.” A Sacrament then is not just a visible sign or public statement. In the case of marriage it's not just a contract to be broken, but an actual channel of grace by which God helps us to experience life with Him. That is how we see marriage. That in Sacramental Marriage, God is intimately involved and he gives us the grace to grow as husbands and wives towards perfected love. The kind of love you find in the trinity itself.

We also see marriage as being for two distinct purposes. Unity and procreation. Not just one or the other. Marriage is to draw people closer, to grow in love towards divine love, agape love. It is also for creating new progeny to continue the human race. That is the purpose of intercourse in the mind of the church. To grow in love. To grow life. To co-create with God in this world. What a channel of grace indeed! What then does that have to do with Jesus answer? Jesus answers that in this world we marry. In the world to come we do not. Why would we? After all if marriage is for unity (growth in love) and procreation (continuing the human race), it would not serve much of a purpose in the age to come. We will be perfected there, right? We will love everyone with perfect love. We don't need to grow in that grace in Heaven, we will love our enemies as much as we love our spouse, and even more! Imagine that. Think of the person you love the most right now. Imagine loving them even more. Then think of the person you dislike the most, the person you can't stand to be around... and imagine loving them even more than you love the person you love the most. Yes, in Heaven we won't need that grace, because we will be in the presence of Grace itself.

Why do I bring up these topics? As we approach the Feast of Christ the King, at the end of the liturgical year, we are reminded that one of these days Christ himself will return. As Catholics we should be thinking of that every day. As such, we also should remember that we are the temple of God. Mary has given us the example, of how we should dedicate our lives, and our temple to God. Antiochus reminds us that the wages of sin are death and despair. That when we corrupt our temple, our hearts, our minds.... we find anguish and sorrow. Then Jesus taught us that we should be living here in a way that brings about the kingdom of God, then he gives us a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God looks like. As Catholics, our Sacramental life allows us to experience grace that helps us to grow into that Kingdom. “What we will be we do not yet know.” What we do know is that we don't have to wait till the end of our own time, our own life, to grow into that. We should be growing now.

Society teaches us the opposite. Society has placed abominations on the altar, just like Antiochus. They have taken the Sacraments and reduced them to simple sheets of paper. It has taken the sexual act out of the Sacramental context and turned it into just an action two people do when they like each other, or just want to have fun. They have taken life and reduced it to just a clump of cells. It's so important to see that God is life. He's not 'like' life. He doesn't just provide life.. but he is life. In Heaven we have life for ever, because we are in the presence of life itself. Here we have the opportunity to do the same, by bringing God into our lives in a Sacramental way.

Abortion is something people don't like to talk about. We say things like “I think it's wrong, but who am I to say that someone else can't do it.” We have no problem telling a heroin addict that it's wrong to shoot up. We have no problem telling an alcoholic that he needs to stop drinking. Yet, we balk at stopping someone from offering up a life as a sacrifice to a foreign god. We as a world need to get back to understanding that life is sacred. That it is Sacramental. That we are God's temple. That when we create life we are joining with God, serving God, bringing his Kingdom here. When we destroy life, we are opposing God.. just like Antiochus. We are desecrating his altar, desecrating his temple.

That applies to all the things we do every day. Are you creating life in your actions? Creating love? Building God's kingdom? Or building your own kingdom? Offering sacrifices at your own altar to serve your own wants and needs no matter what the cost?

His servant and yours,
Brian