Sunday, July 25, 2010

Propers for the Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Today our liturgical Propers give us several cautionary tales from history.  We are reminded not to be foolish in our pride, as many of our ancestors were.  If we are truly to live our lives as faithful followers of Christ, we must always remember to flee from our pride, and to turn our attention to the Father.

Behold God is my helper, and the Lord is the protector of my soul:  turn back the evils upon my enemies, and cut them off in Thy truth, O Lord my protector.  Ps. 53:3 Save me, O God, by Thy name, and deliver me in Thy strength.  (Introit, Psalm 53:6, 7)
As will become clear throughout today's liturgy, the people of God are always presented with a choice.  We can choose to trust in God for our well-being, or we can trust in our own "wisdom."  The Introit in a certain sense reminds us of this stark choice.  We can almost picture the Psalmist proclaiming these words to the wicked around him.  That while they trust in themselves in their arrogance, he trusts in God, the true helper and protector.  Likewise today, people may trust in politics, physical health, themselves, their money, all these things.  Yet the Christian soul, whether or not he has these things, relies little on them, since they cannot provide what truly matters.

Let Thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of Thy suppliant people:  and that Thou mayest grant their desire to those that seek, make them to ask such things as shall please Thee.  (Collect)
Brethren, Let us not covet evil things, as they also coveted.  Neither become ye idolaters, as some of them, as it is written:  The People sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.  Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed fornication, and there fell in one day three and twenty thousand.  Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them tempted, and perished by the serpents.  Neither do you murmur, as some of them murmured, and were destroyed by the destroyer.  Now all these things happened to them in figure, and they are written for our correction, upon whom the ends of the world are come.  Wherefore he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall.  Let no temptation take hold on you, but such as is human:  and God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which you are able;  but will make also with temptation issue, that you may be able to bear it.  (Epistle 1 Corinthians 10:  6-13)
I've included both of these together because I believe the Epistle really does a job at explaining the collect.  The Collect mentions those things that "please Thee."  What are those things?  We find that answer next.  Paul reminds us what would seem like simple things:  Do not covet, worship God alone, do not commit fornication.    Many a person would retort:  Why shouldn't we do these things?  Paul reminds us of the grave consequences of these actions.  Thousands died, were stricken ill, etc.  Eventually, their entire kingdom was taken away.  All of this happened because man foolishly believed he had no need of God.  These punishments occurred as an all too frequent reminder that they were not above God.  They were not gods.

Yet if we understand these punishments, we can also understand the way God helps us endure hardships, and the blessings he provides.  Since the people wished to eat and drink, He provided them with bread from heaven and water from the rock.  Just as people were wounded by beasts, God gave the serpent to heal.  When sinners attempted to sway the Israelis into idolatry, God provided the prophets to bring them back to the One True God.  In today's world, He provides the sacraments and the Church for our protection.  Most importantly, He gives us His only-begotten Son, who teaches us how to avoid the things here mentioned.

At that time, when Jesus drew near to Jerusalem, seeing the city, He wept over it, saying:  If thou hadst known, and that in this day, the things that are to thy peace: but now they are hidden from thy eyes.  For the days shall come upon thee, and thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and straiten thee of every side, and beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee; and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone, because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation.  And entering into the temple, He began to cast out them that sold therein, and them that bought, saying to them:  It is written, My house is the house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.  And He was teaching daily in the temple.  (Gospel, Luke 19:41-47)
The Gospel introduces what could be called the formal judgment of Jerusalem.  All of the things God provided to the Jews they rejected.  Worse still, they were prepared to reject the messiah, the one promised to them of old.  When Christ clears out the temple, it would be akin to someone walking up to the White House, and ejecting the President and all of his cabinet.  Since Israel had rejected God, now came the consequences of that rejection.  Christ foretells the coming destruction of the city, and clears out those committing fraud in the temple.  Yet what He also does at this point is rather curious.  St. Luke mentions "And He was teaching daily in the temple."

One could say that Christ does the same thing with our souls.  After cleaning out the impurities and scandals of sin, He reclaims our hearts, teaching us what we should be doing in place of these evil things.  After reclaiming the temple, He begins to teach the faithful to avoid those things He has just purged.  We know from history that the Jews ultimately rejected His teaching, and killed Him.  As a result, the veil was torn, and 40 years later, the temple was utterly destroyed.  A similar fate awaits us Christians who receive Christ, and decide to reject what He has offered us.

Grant to us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, that we may worthily frequent these mysteries:  for as often as the memorial of this Victim is celebrated, the work of our redemption is wrought.  (Secret)
If we wish to keep Christ in our hearts, to keep His teaching Supreme, the Father has offered us a certain way to accomplish this.  As Christians, we must frequent ourselves of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist offered at the Mass.  When we make present the sacrifice of Calvary, fulfilling Christ's command to "do this in memory of me" we in a very real sense re-enact the cleansing of that temple.  This time, it is the temple of our body and soul.  Being cleansed of the garbage, we allow Christ to reign supreme in our hearts.  This is contrary to the Jews, who decided to kill Him instead.  When we receive the sacraments, we make the great "yes" to invite God into our heart.

Let us always thank the Father in heaven for providing us these great sacraments, and through them, may we always submit to the teaching daily of Jesus Christ.

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