Sunday, March 4, 2018



Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace. 
John 2

In a moment of great humility, something rare for our church at that time, the bishops of Vatican II admitted in writing that the church is “semper reformanda,” “always in need of reform.” The human side of the church, like all human organizations, has a tendency to fall into sin and decay and must be called back to fidelity, over and over again as it moves through history. As it was in the beginning, is now and shall ever be, as long as it is on the earth. Yes, even in Jesus’ day, the church needed a good cleansing.

In a dramatic and public gesture of outrage, Jesus anger boils over. It is very important to remember that the anger of Jesus was not directed at people who sinned or failed in all its everyday ways. His anger was directed at those who controlled religion and used it to abuse simple people. He had pity and compassion on the outcasts, the sick and sinner, but he was outraged at what had happened, at the hands of its leaders, to the religion he loved. In some of the most blunt words from the mouth of Jesus ever recorded, he called them “snakes, fakes, phoneys and frauds. He called them “whitewashed tombs,” “all clean and pretty outside, but filled with stench and rot inside!” It is important to note that Jesus was not against organized religion, but what these people had done to organized religion. As this gospel story tell us, he did not come to tear down the temple, he simply came to clean house! Instead of serving the religious needs of their people, they used people to serve their own needs. The temple had become a market place and they were getting a cut from every corner of it!

Even so, Jesus is not interested in a shake-up of temple administration. He knew all that “religious business” came from hearts that had turned away from God. He wanted conversion and transformation of minds and hearts, not just some cosmetic changes in the structure. He was more interested in people changing than making changes in the material world, because he knew that if people turned to God, the organization would get better.

It is sad that many people never get below the packaging when it comes to religion. They see only the earthenware jar and never the treasure it holds. The purpose of religion is to serve, not be served. The purpose of organized religion is the transformation of people, not using people to serve organized religion. 
It is also sad that many people naïvely assume that organized religion is always evil simply because it has gotten off track here and there in history. Jesus was clear that he did not come to destroy organized religion, but to lead it back to its original purpose, to do the right thing and to do it for the right reasons, to protect the “truth of the gospel.” Without organized religion the truth of the gospel would not have been passed from one generation to another. Without organized religion, we would never have heard the “good news.” Without organized religion, we would not have the sacred scriptures. Without organized religion, we would be split into millions of personal opinions and small little cults. Without organized religion, we could not be the unified “Body of Christ” in the world today. Without organized religion, the followers of Christ would not be able to take the “good news” of Christ to the ends of the earth. Without organized religion, we would not have a way to offer support to other believers around the world. Yes, the church may always be in need of reform, but that does not negate the need of the church to be organized. Yes, the church may need a good “house cleaning” ever now and then, but the organization of the church is always needed.

Fellow Catholics! The church of the recent past has been too closely identified with its leaders. These days we have re-discovered and re-emphasized the fact that we, each and ever one of us, is the church. For the last thirty or forty years, people have operated out of a romantic notion that all the ills of the church reside with the institution – so that if only we could reform it, we ourselves would be better Christians. The truth quite often is the other way around. The institution will get better when each one of us are reformed and transformed. These days, we are called to renew the church, not by focusing on the weaknesses of the institution, but through personal conversion, one heart at a time. No church can be strong when every member of it is weak.

We are the church. We are called to “clean house” one person at a time! The problems of the church begins right here in our own hearts and in our own lives. When I get better, the church will get better. It’s like the old song about “peace.” “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!” Let there be a renewed church and let it begin with me!

Fellow Catholics! The church of the recent past has been overly identified with its leaders. Members of the church were seen as serving the leaders of the church. Now the church is again identified with the members of the church and the leaders are seen as servants of its members. The church of the future will be a church more identified with the laity. That church cannot be strong if all its members are weak. If the church is to be renewed, it will begin with you. Step up to the plate and take responsibility for your part in carrying on your part of Christ’s mission to the world. Let the “house cleaning” begin and let it begin with us!

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