Sunday, March 15, 2009

Third Sunday of Lent - B

John 2:13-22: The Cleansing of the Temple

2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 2:14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 2:15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 2:16 He told those who were selling the doves, "Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father's house a marketplace!" 2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, "Zeal for your house will consume me." 2:18 The Jews then said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" 2:19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." 2:20 The Jews then said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?" 2:21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body. 2:22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Intelligence Powered by Love

The clutter, buying and selling that was taking place in the Temple, takes place within us as a dervish of conflicting desires and concepts. These are always going to take place, but they must be encased in the context of a contemplative mind and heart. Bonnie Mahala gave me a chapter (Friday last) of a book written by a woman, Martha Beck, who had a Down syndrome boy named Adam. Martha Beck was a high achieving graduate of one of our pre-eminently advertised universities who was trying to find herself by “thrashing my way through a maze of difficult requirements toward labels and achievements that contain no joy in themselves.”[1] She and her husband spent years trying to teach Adam the alphabet in order to be able to read.

She explains: “He inherited our immense supply of magnetic refrigerator letters once the rest of us had stopped using them, but he didn’t pick up the alphabet as Katie eventually had. Because his speck was almost completely unintelligible, I had no idea whether he was even capable of grasping the idea of written symbols representing phonetic units that can be combined to make words. Written language requires several impressive cognitive leaps, and I had no idea whether Adam would ever make even one. Nevertheless, from the time he started preschool at three, we kept running Adam through the alphabet, repeating the name of each letter, along with its major sound, thousands and thousands of times in the strained voices of tourists who believe they can overcome any language barrier by sheer volume.

“It didn’t work. When quizzed without prompting, Adam never recognized the leeters on his own. By the time he was six I was ready t o give up.

“Then one day John was holding up a plastic letter and making its sound, which happened to be “EEEEEEEEE,” when Adam suddenly perked up and said, ‘Wizbef!’ This is the way he pronounces his sister Elizabeth’s name. Naturally, John and I took this as ample cause to stay home from work and celebrate. During that day, we discovered that Adam’s learning capacity went way beyond anything we expected – as long as everything he learned related directly to someone he cared about. He had absolutely no interest in, for example, “E is for egg.” But E for Elizabeth – now that was crucial information.

“In the end we all learned the alphabet this way. The symbols we had been trying to link to abstract sounds ended up as a parade of personalities: Adam first, of course, and then Billy, Caleb, Diane, Elizabeth, Francine, Grandpa … As we figured out how he learned, the landscape of our son’s mind began to reveal itself to us. Instead of rationally constructed structure of empirical observations, logical conclusions, and arbitrary symbols, Adam’s mental world seems to be more like a huge family reunion. ]It is a gathering of people, all linked by Adam’s affection into a complex universe of relationships and characteristics. In this world, Adam learns as fast as anyone I know. Long before he could reads or write even the most basic words (or so I thought), Adam cam home to tell me, in his garbled tongue, about the new boy who had just moved into his class, and who had become Adam’s friend. When I couldn’t understand his pronunciation of the boy’s name, Adam grabbed a pencil in his stubby, grubby little-boy fingers, and wrote ‘Miguel Fernando de la Hoya’ on a piece of paper – a piece of paper, needless to say, which I intend to frame. If I ever need a dose of Adam and he isn’t around, I’ll be able to look at that clumsily written name and remember what it is like to tap into an intelligence powered exclusively by love.”

Because Adam’s intelligence was powered by love, Adam saw things we don’t see while they are right in front of us – like “the divine something hidden in the ordinary” of Escriva. Adam’s mother was afraid that he might slow her down. He did. “Thank God. I was afraid Adam would slow me down, and he has. Not because he has required more care and time than a ‘normal’ boy (he is the most helpful and least demanding of my children) but because the immediacy and joy with which he lives his life make rapacious achievement, Harvard-style, look a lot like quiet desperation. Adam has slowed me down to the point where I notice what is in front of me, its mystery and beauty, instead of thrashing my way through a maze of difficult requirements toward labels and achievements that contain no joy in themselves. Adam takes his joy straight up, in purer form than most of us can handle….He is the one who taught me to appreciate rainbows – not only in the sky but also in lawn sprinklers and dish-soap bubbles and patches of oil. He is the one who stops, and makes me stop, to smell the bushes.”

Adam Beck as “Other Christ"

Now let’s do the theology of Adam Beck, The Temple and the Christology involved.
The temple is the humanity of Christ. It has been assumed by and into the Divine Person of the Word. The Person of the Word is prayer. Ratzinger wrote:

“The basic reason why man can speak with God arises from the fact that God himself is speech, word. His nature is to speak, to hear, to reply, as we see particularly in Johannine theology, where Son and Spirit are described in terms of pure ‘hearing;’ they speak in response to what they have first heard. Only because there is already speech, ‘Logos,’ in God can there be speech, ‘Logos,’ to God. Philosophically we could put it like this: the Logos in God is the onto-logical foundation for prayer. Prologue of John’s Gospel speaks of this connection in its very first sentences: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in communication with God’ (1,1) as a more precise translation of the Greek προς suggests, rather than the usual ‘with God.’ It expresses the act of turning to God, or relationship. Since there is relationship within God himself, there can also be a participation in this relationship. Thus we can relate to God in a way which does not contradict his nature.”[3]

This followed by Ratzinger’s “Thesis 1 of “Behold the Pierced One:” “According to the testimony of Holy Scripture, the center of the life and person of Jesus is his constant communication with the Father.” In this text, he affirms: “According to Luke, we see who Jesus is if we see him at prayer. The Christian confession of faith comes from participating in the prayer of Jesus, from being drawn into his prayer and being privileged to behold it; it interprets the experience of Jesus’ prayer, and its interpretation of Jesus is correct because it springs from a sharing in what is most personal and intimate to him.”[4]

If such is the nature of the Person of Christ, how else could we understand the prayerful silence which must pervade His entire humanity, a humanity which is assumed into His Person and which is exercised as the conduit of His Persona lived out in time and space? And what else could we expect from the Temple which is a symbol of His body and humanity? And since the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old, how clear it becomes why Christ want the prayer, silence and peace that integrates His Persona to reign and integrated the Temple.

Contemplative Prayer

Homily by St. John Chrysostom: “Prayer and converse with God is a supreme good… I do not mean prayer of outward observance but prayer from the heart, not committed to fixed times of periods [which is essential] but continuous throughout the day and night.

“Our spirit should be quick to reach out toward God not only when it is engaged in meditation; at other times also, when it is carrying out its duties, caring for the needy, performing works of charity, giving generously in the service of others, our spirit should long for God and call him to mind, so that these works may be seasoned with the salt of God’s love, and so make a palatable offering to the Lord of the universe….

“Prayer is the light of the spirit, true knowledge of God, mediating between God and man,. The spirit, raised up to heaven by prayer, clings to God with the utmost tenderness; like a child crying tearfully for its mother, it craves the milk that God provides. It seeks the satisfaction of its won desires, and receives gifts outweighing the whole world of nature.

“Prayer stands before God as an honored ambassador. It gives joy to the sprit, peace to the heart... I speak of prayer, not words. It is the longing for God, love too deep for words, a gift not given by man but by God’s grace…. One who tastes this food is set on fire with an eternal longing for the Lord; his spirit burns as in a fire of the utmost intensity. Practice prayer from the beginning…”[5]

[1] Martha Beck, “Expecting Adam,” Memoir 315.
[2] Ibid 313.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Feast of Faith,” Ignatius (1986)25.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 19.
[5] St. John Chrysostom, Homily, Office of Readings, Friday after Ash Wednesday.

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