Cleansing the Temple Today

Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Thus it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true brotherhood. In our own day, the magnified power of humanity threatens to destroy the race itself

For a monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle of was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested. Caught in this conflict, man is obliged to wrestle constantly if he is to cling to what is good, nor can he achieve his own integrity without great efforts and the help of God’s grace. That is why Christ’s Church, trusting in the design of the Creator, acknowledges that human progress can serve man’s true happiness, yet she cannot help echoing the Apostle’s warning: Do not model yourselves on the behaviour of the world (Rm 12:2). Here by the world is meant that spirit of vanity and malice which transforms into an instrument of sin those human energies intended for the service of God and man. Hence if anyone wants to know how this unhappy situation can be overcome, Christians will tell him that all human activity, constantly imperiled by man’s pride and deranged self-love, must be purified and perfected by the power of Christ’s cross and Resurrection. For redeemed by Christ and made a new creature in the Holy Spirit, man is able to love the things themselves created by God, and ought to do so. He can receive them from God and respect and reverence them as flowing constantly from the hand of God. Grateful to his Benefactor for these creatures, using and enjoying them in detachment and liberty of spirit, man is led forward into a true possession of them, as having nothing, yet possessing all things. [All are] your servants; but you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God (1 Co 3:22-23).

7 December 1965 Gaudium Et Spes 37

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Us First

I am a citizen, not of Athens or Greece, but of the world.” Socrates wrote those words more than twenty-four hundred years ago. Today more than ever these are words which we would need to appropriate because, more and more, our world and we ourselves are sinking into some unhealthy forms of tribalism where we are concerned primarily with taking care of our own.

We see this everywhere today. We tend to think that this lives only in circles of extremism, but it is being advocated with an ever-intensifying moral fervor in virtually every place in the world.  It sounds like this:  America first! England first! My country first! My state first! My church first! My family first! Me first! More and more, we are making ourselves the priority and defining ourselves in ways that are not just against the Gospel but are also making us meaner in spirit and more miserly of heart. What’s to be said about this?

First of all, it’s against the Gospel, against most everything Jesus taught. If the Gospels are clear on anything, they are clear that all persons in this word are equal in the sight of God, that all persons in this world are our brothers and sisters, that we are asked to share the goods of this world fairly with everyone, especially the poor, and, most importantly, that we are not to put ourselves first, but are always to consider the needs of others before our own. All slogans that somehow put “me”, “us”  “my own”, “my group”, “my country” first, deny this. Moreover, this doesn’t just apply at the micro-level, where we graciously step back in politeness to let someone else enter the room before us, it applies, and especially so, to us as whole nations. For us, as nations, there is a certain immorality and immaturity in thinking first of all, and primarily, of our own interests, as opposed to thinking as citizens of the world, concerned for everyone’s good.

And the truth of this is found not just in Jesus and the Gospels, but also in what’s highest and best in us. The very definition of being big-hearted is predicated on precisely rising above self-interest and being willing to sacrifice our own interests for the good of others and the good of the larger community. The same is true for being big-minded. We are big-minded exactly to the extent that we are sensitive to the wider picture and can integrate into our thinking the needs, wounds, and ideologies of everyone, not just those of their own kind. That’s what it means to understand rather than simply be intelligent. When we are petty we cannot understand beyond our own needs, our own wounds, and our own ideologies.

We know this too from experience. On our best days our hearts and minds are more open, more willing to embrace widely, more willing to accept differences, and more willing to sacrifice self-interest for the good of others. On our best days we are gracious, big-hearted, and understanding, and, on those days, it’s unthinkable for us to say: Me first! We only put ourselves first and let our concerns trump our own goodness of heart on days when our frustrations, wounds, tiredness, and ideological infections overwhelm us. And even when we do revert to pettiness, part of us knows that this isn’t us at our best, but that we are more than what our actions betray at that moment. Below our wounds and ideological sicknesses, we remain riveted to the truth that we are, first, citizens of the world. A healthy heart still beats below our wounded, infected one.

Sadly almost everything in our world today tempts us away for this. We are adult children of Rene Descartes, who helped shape the modern mind with his famous dictum: “I think, therefore, I am!” Our own headaches and heartaches are what’s most real to us and we accord reality and value to others primarily in relationship to our own subjectivity. That’s why we can so easily say: “Me first! My country first! My heartaches first!”

But there can be no peace, no world community, no real brother and sisterhood, and no real church community, as long as we do not define ourselves as, first, citizens of the world and only second as members of our own tribe.

Admittedly, we need to take care of our own families, our own countries, and our own selves. Justice asks that we also treat ourselves fairly. But, ultimately, the tension here is a false one, that is, the needs of others and our own needs are not in competition. Athens and the world are of one piece. We best serve our own when we serve others. We are most fair to ourselves when we are fair to others. Only by being good citizens of the world are we good citizens in our own countries.

Putting ourselves first goes against the Gospel. It’s also poor strategy: Jesus tells us that, in the end, the first will be last.

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All Souls

Yesterday the feast of All Saints brought us to contemplate “your holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem, our mother” (Preface, All Saints). Today, with our heart still turned toward this ultimate reality, we commemorate all of the faithful departed, who have “gone before us marked with the sign of faith and… who sleep in Christ” (Eucharistic Prayer I). It is very important that we Christians live a relationship of the truth of the faith with the deceased and that we view death and the afterlife in the light of Revelation. Already the Apostle Paul, writing to the first communities, exhorted the faithful to “not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since”, he wrote, “we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thes 4: 13-14). Today too, it is necessary to evangelize about the reality of death and eternal life, realities particularly subject to superstitious beliefs and syncretisms, so that the Christian truth does not risk mixing itself with myths of various types.

In my Encyclical on Christian hope, I questioned myself about the mystery of eternal life (cf. Spe salvi, 10-12). I asked myself: “Is the Christian faith a hope that transforms and sustains the lives of people still today?” (cf. ibid., n. 10). And more radically: “Do men and women of our time still long for eternal life? Or has earthly existence perhaps become their only horizon?” In reality, as St Augustine had already observed, all of us want a “blessed life”, happiness. We rarely know what it is like or how it will be, but we feel attracted to it. This is a universal hope, common to men and women of all times and all places. The expression “eternal life” aims to give a name to this irrepressible longing; it is not an unending succession of days, but an immersion of oneself in the ocean of infinite love, in which time, before and after, no longer exists. A fullness of life and of joy: it is this that we hope and await from our being with Christ (cf. ibid, 12).

Today we renew the hope in eternal life, truly founded on Christ’s death and Resurrection. “I am risen and I am with you always”, the Lord tells us, and my hand supports you. Wherever you may fall, you will fall into my hands and I will be there even to the gates of death. Where no one can accompany you any longer and where you can take nothing with you, there I will wait for you to transform for you the darkness into light. Christian hope, however, is not solely individual, it is also always a hope for others. Our lives are profoundly linked, one to the other, and the good and the bad that each of us does always effects others too. Hence, the prayer of a pilgrim soul in the world can help another soul that is being purified after death. This is why the Church invites us today to pray for our beloved deceased and to pause at their tombs in the cemeteries. Mary, Star of Hope, renders our faith in eternal life stronger and more authentic, and supports our prayer of suffrage for our deceased brethren.
Pope Benedict 2008

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