Jim Penczykowski’s Homily from March 7, 2021

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As we pray, so we believe.

This statement (or rather its Latin counterpart) is attributed to a Christian in the 5th century.

It describes well how our worship, when practiced regularly, informs how we see God’s hand working in us and around us.

The triduum of Holy Week, (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday) are at the very core of this statement and our worship during Lent flows from it rather than to it.

Our worship in Holy Week confirms for us that Christ Jesus broke the bonds of sin and death, rising victorious once and for all, establishing the reign of God in our midst.

During Lent we allow the customs of prayer, fasting and alms giving along with the Sacred Scripture to remind us that, as heirs with Christ in this established reign of God, we too exercise the power of God and practice the balancing act of contemplation and action, both communally and individually, as Jesus and the first followers did.

How did we get to the Ten Commandments today and how does that fit into the cleansing of the temple?

In our first Sunday of Lent we are reminded of God’s loving faithfulness in the covenant God makes with Noah and the Gospel writer, Mark, tells us,

Now after John was arrested,

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

and saying,

“The time is fulfilled, and the reign of God has come near.

repent, and believe in the good news.”

In our second Sunday of Lent we are reminded of God’s loving faithfulness in the covenant God makes with Abraham and the Gospel writer, Mark, tells us that Jesus said,

“If any want to become my followers,

let them deny themselves

and take up their cross and follow me.

In this third Sunday of Lent we are reminded of God’s loving faithfulness in the covenant God makes with Israel at Mount Sinai and we transition to the Gospel writer, John, who has Jesus commemorating the Passover in the Temple of Jerusalem.

There jesus encounters injustice cloaked in liturgical correctness.

The religious authorities then said to him,

“What sign can you show us for doing this?”

Jesus answered them,

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

The authorities then said,

“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years,

and will you raise it up in three days?” But Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body. After Jesus was raised from the dead,

his disciples remembered that Jesus had said this.

and they believed the scripture

and the word that Jesus had spoken.

By cleansing the temple Jesus offered us a sign that in the reign of God no one is relegated to inhumane or subhuman status.

In Jesus’ encounters with the sick and the poor and outcasts, he does not condescend.

Jesus demonstrates that our charity as exemplified by our alms giving only goes so far.

Jesus insists on creating respectful and dignified space for each and all persons and groups to seek community.

But this is not just for liturgical expression.

That dignified and respectful space must be played out in each generation by our societal and governmental policies.

When we look at racial and class inequalities and disparities in Madison and Dane County and most of the USA one of the stand out correlations is segregated housing that leads to all sorts of other problems from food deserts to transportation problems to huge differences in performance in k-12 education.

What is not spoken of nearly enough is how these inequalities interact with the spiritual health of our society.

To the extent we condone and put up with treating some humans as if they do not count as much as other humans, we tear at the fabric of creation.

What needs to guide us in our individual and community and governmental decisions is how we answer this one question?

WHAT IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR POOR PERSONS AND OTHERS AT THE MARGINS OF SOCIETY?

Permit me a few examples from my personal experience.

One,

When Luke House was under construction in 1985, the construction crew of mostly talented amateurs saw to it that no short cuts or cheap materials were used which led to periodic comments from suppliers and others such as, “isn’t that good enough for a soup kitchen?” 

Implied, of course, was that those desperate enough to eat there should just be grateful that any kind of building exists for their use at all.

Two,

The St. Vincent de Paul Society sponsors housing for single men called Port St. Vincent and housing for single women and women with children called Seton House.

All those persons in those housing programs live in a vital residential neighborhood within an easy walk to a grocery and a bus line and other first-class urban amenities.

Three,

When the old Green Bush neighborhood at the far end of West Washington Av was torn down 50 plus years ago, one of the few good decisions to come out of it was the Bay View Foundation which built and managed 102 units of subsidized housing out of which developed a new community in the old triangle.  Many individuals and families got a toe hold on a good life there over the years.

Four,

Mifflin Street Apartments, directly across the street from an elementary school, has 55 units of affordable housing including several for families with children who were recently homeless.

This was completed in 2018.

This short litany highlights far-sighted, good decisions on the part of policy makers and others to allow persons in need to maintain their dignity while they sort out what else is possible for them to do.

What this litany does not mention are the many past and current decisions that house persons in need at remote locations off the beaten path from vital neighborhoods.

That litany could go on for quite a long time and the need is so daunting that we are tempted to throw up our hands in despair.

For more information on this subject you may want to consult the Cap Times edition from this past week.

This preamble on housing and homelessness sets the stage for how Jesus acts in today’s gospel passage from John, chapter 2. 

Jesus has just demonstrated his power at the Wedding Feast of Cana, the first of the Seven Signs of Jesus’ divinity in John’s Gospel.

But now the Gospel writer transports Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem during the Passover Feast where he demonstrates a totally different power and sign.

The area of the Jerusalem Temple that Jesus “cleanses” is an outer courtyard where Gentile converts to Judaism and other “undesirable” persons are permitted.

The temple authorities also allow vendors to sell animals there, suitable for sacrifices in the inner courtyards.

So, the area where the second-class citizens are allowed to pray and worship is one where they must compete with the sights and sounds and smells and crowded conditions of a barn, complete with stalls and manure.

Jesus sees the injustice of this and tosses the vendors and cattle out on their ears (metaphorically speaking).

Jesus makes one exception.

Those who were selling the only sacrifice that poor people could afford, namely, doves, Jesus simply told, “Take these things out of here.”

The Temple authorities and at least some of the first-class citizens of Jerusalem thought that a barn-like atmosphere at the margins of the temple was good enough for poor people and the ritually unclean to pray in.

Jesus set them straight.

Only the best is good enough for poor people in this telling.

“Zeal for your house consumes me.”,

conveys god’s generous heart as manifested in Jesus’ action.

What we hope to cultivate in this season are generous hearts.

Generous hearts love without boundaries of class or caste or “otherness”.

Generous hearts look to produce more just conditions in their communities and nations.

Generous hearts commit to daily acts that they entrust to God so that they ripple out to the ends of the earth.

Generous hearts become more courageous over time, until they no longer count the cost of following Christ.

*   *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *        *       

For peacemakers in our families and in our neighborhoods and in our nation and in our world, particularly Pope Francis and the leaders he met with in Iraq these past few days, that God who began the good work in them, will bring it to completion, we pray …

For catechumens and others preparing to be received into the church this Easter that this will be a time of grace and peace, we pray …

In thanksgiving for scientists and engineers involved in discovering and producing lifesaving and life enhancing vaccines, we pray …

For communities of faith throughout our world and in particular for this Sunday Assembly, we pray we will listen to the prompting of the Spirit and act on those prompts with courage, we pray …

For the leaders of nations and leaders at all levels of government, that they will act prudently for the sake of the common good, we pray …

Please take a few moments now to bring to mind those whose needs you carry in your hearts. For these and all those whose names are written in our book of intentions, we pray …

God of all goodness,

when our weakness causes discouragement,

let your compassion fill us with hope

and lead us through a Lent of conversion to the beauty of Easter Joy.

Grant this in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.

APPENDIX

You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see and the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.
Vincent de Paul

“True charity begins where justice ends”: the life and teachings of St. Alberto Hurtado, S.J.

The Relationship Between Justice and Charity

According to Hurtado “true charity begins where justice ends.” One cannot fully realize the virtue of charity without striving for justice. There are many who are disposed to enact charity, but are not resigned to accomplish justice; they are disposed to give alms, but not willing to pay a just salary. Even if it seems strange, it is much easier to be charitable (obviously only in appearance) than just. Such apparent “charity” is not authentic, because the true charity begins where justice ends. Charity without justice will not save us from social ills, but only creates a profound resentment. Injustice causes much greater evils than charity can repair.67 At first glance this statement may seem problematic. Is not charity, a theological virtue, a “higher” virtue than justice? While Hurtado certainly did not deny the superiority of charity as a supernatural gift, he did emphasize that charity separated from justice was not authentic charity. According to Hurtado, too many Christians content themselves with giving from their excess, while ignoring gross 65 Id., La búsqueda, 105. 66 Id., Moral social, 204. 67 Ibid., 214. 32 ❈ John Gavin, S.J. injustices in their midst. To follow Jesus, however, means to crush one’s ego, to put on Christ, and to live in solidarity with those in need. It means to do as he did in “healing the sick, multiplying the bread, offering to relieve a burden and giving peace to spirits,” since Jesus “showed himself to be the Son of Man before allowing himself to be known as the Son of God.”68 Thus justice and charity are complements, the essential virtues of Christian perfection and witness. Justice and charity complement one another. A charity which does not have the strength to move us to give to our brothers that which we owe them is not true charity. And a justice that is not animated by charity is, in practice, an empty word. How can we hope that fallen man will come out of himself and give to his brother that which he owes if he is not animated by the fire of charity and the power of grace? In order to fully realize justice toward others, one must put himself in their place, to understand their reasons and needs. This is to understand the Gospel maxim: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you; do to others that which you want them to do to you” (Tob. 4:15; Luke 6:31).69

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