We Can't Make Deals with God.
The Memorial of Saint Cecilia, Virgin & Martyr.
Lessons from the primary feria for the Thirty-Third Friday of Ordinary Time, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Maccabees 4: 36-37, 52-59.
• [Responsorial] I Chronicles 29: 10-12.
• Luke 19: 11-28.
…or, from the proper:
• Hosea 2: 16-17, 21-22.
• Psalm 45: 11-12, 14-17.
• Matthew 25: 1-13.
…or, any lessons from the common of Martyrs for a Virgin Martyr, or the common of Virgins for One Martyr.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Celilia, Virgin & Martyr.
First lesson from the common "Me expectevérunt…" of a Virgin Martyr, Gradual from the proper, & third lesson from the common "Loquébar…" of a Virgin Martyr, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Ecclesiasticus 51: 13-17.
• Psalm 44: 11-12, 5.
• Matthew 25: 1-13.
8:24 PM 11/22/2019 — There’s not much I can tell you about Saint Cecilia because there’s not much that is known for certain. While the popular account of her life and martyrdom is very detailed—which is why there is such popular devotion to her—very little of it can be verified beyond the fact that she definitely existed. According to legend, she is the author of a famous poem about Christian virginity, and is revered as the patron of sacred music, though the reason for that is somewhat vague, except that one of the popular accounts of her life says that, as the musicians played at her wedding, she "sang to God in her heart." Forced into an unwanted marriage, she is believed to have converted her husband to Christ and persuaded him to preserve her virginity, with both of them being martyred in the third century, along with a sympathetic Roman soldier. A church was built in Trastevere on the site where it's believed her house was; and, in the ninth century, Pope Paschal I had some remains which he believed to be her's moved there. None of this is verifiable by any actual documention or certain archiology; hense, the Collect of today's Mass: "…grant, we pray, that what has been devoutly handed down concerning her may offer us examples to imitate…," clearly avoiding any claim to accuracy. No matter, since I want to make our focus today’s Gospel lesson.
For some peculiar reason, the episode of our Lord throwing the money changers out of the Temple is a very popular image of our Lord, probably because it caters to the very Protestant notion that loves our Blessed Lord but hates the institution of organized religion, founded on the curmudgeonly notion that every large institution exists basically to make money. In this narrow minded perspective, the vendors in the temple area represent to us those who use religion to make a profit, and our Lord driving them out stands for the moral purity of those who love God but hate any kind of religious officialdom. It dovetails nicely with the anti-Catholicism which has always been a part of the American experience, which encourages this idea that true Christianity has nothing to do with the institution of the Church.
I like to throw cold water on these popular misconceptions by taking people back to the feast of the Presentation: Mary and Joseph take the Baby Jesus to the Temple because the Law of Moses requires that every first born male be presented to God along with two pigeons or a pair of turtle doves. The whole point of the inclusion of the episode in the Holy Gospel—and the Church's celebration of it—is to show the obedience of the Holy Family, and our Lord, to the requirements of the Law, a lesson that our Lord would reenforce several times in His own preaching throughout his public ministry, particularly when he said, “Do not think that I have come to set aside the law and the prophets; I have not come to set them aside, but to bring them to perfection” (Matt. 5: 17 Knox). It was essential, even to our Lord, Himself, that this law be fulfilled; so, where did Joseph get the two birds for the sacrifice? He bought them from a vendor in the Temple, the same kind of vendor that our Lord drives from the Temple in today's Gospel lesson.
So, the Sunday School interpretation of our Lord's actions, that it's wrong for the Church to make money, simply doesn't pass muster. Of course the Church has to make money, otherwise it couldn't exist in the real world; and, if the Church doesn't exist in the real world, then there are no priests, there is no Mass, there are no sacraments, and Grace is not available to us … unless, of course, you're a Protestant who doesn't believe in the priesthood, the Mass, the sacraments or grace.
Our Lord drives the vendors from the outer court of the Temple not because it's wrong for someone to do that kind of work;—without them, people would not be able to perform their religious duties before God—He drives them out because they're doing it in service to the wrong religion. The Blessed Apostle John's account of this event is much more detailed, and includes the rather heated exchange our Lord has with the temple elders right after He knocks over the tables of the vendors; and, when they ask our Lord to justify His actions, He responds to them by predicting his Passion, declaring that He will die and rise three days later; so, He knows—because He is God—that His death and resurrection will result in the creation of a new religion, one that will complete and fulfill the old one.
So, the meaning of our Lord's actions today, and the message of today's Gospel lesson, is not a call to abandon religion in favor of some sort of non-institutional faith that doesn't take up a collection; it's a call to sincerity in our religious practice. We can't buy or bribe our way into heaven, and we all know this; but, sometimes we act as if we think we can: someone who's living an immoral life who tries to make up for it by some kind of philanthropy, or someone living in an invalid union who tries to cancel his sin by engaging in some kind of intense volunteerism. Ted Kennedy, before he died, wrote this impassioned letter to Pope Benedict in which he tried to make the case that his long-standing support for abortion rights was somehow canceled by the fact that he did so much to help the poor, as if helping the poor could possibly make up for millions of dead children. The Holy Father didn't answer the letter; what could he say?
And there you have the true meaning of our Lord driving the money changers from the Temple: it's a symbolic act meant to remind us we cannot use a clever manipulation of our religion to try and assuage our consciences so that we don't have to change our lives. It's coupled with the re-dedication of the Temple in our first lesson from First Maccabees—the very Temple which our Lord visits today—to remind us that the rules haven't changed, but that we must now begin to live them. The practice of our Faith can’t be for show; it actually has to govern how we live our lives.