Friday November 21, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Reading (1 Maccabees 4:36-37, 52-59) Gospel (Luke 19:45-48)
In the readings today, we hear about the purification of the temple. The first time that we hear about it is from 2 Maccabees when Judas Maccabees and his brothers went up to purify the temple that had been destroyed by the Gentiles when the people of Israel were brought into exile. And in the reading we heard about today, as they rebuilt and dedicated the altar and celebrated for eight days, that rededication is the feast that the Jewish people today would call Hanukkah, the day when they rededicated the altar after it had been destroyed and the Gentiles had set up an abomination on the altar of sacrifice and had violated the very temple of God Himself. If that were not bad enough, then in the Gospel reading we hear about how the Jewish people themselves had violated the temple of God. That is, they had turned it from a house of prayer into a den of thieves, according to what the prophets had said. They were embarked in buying and selling; they were more involved in making money than they were in the worship of God. And it was for this that the Lord condemned them.
At the same time, today we celebrate a feast where the temple of God is demonstrated in all its glory: the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When Our Lady was just a little girl, about four years old or so, she was brought to the temple by her parents, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, and there she was presented before God and dedicated to His service. One of the things they would do with the little girls is they would bring them there and leave them at the temple for a year, and they would be trained by the virgins who stayed in the temple. They would be taught about the worship of God, and they would stay in the temple working and praying and doing the Will of God. It was in this way that Our Lady was prepared for the work that she was to do, to become the ultimate temple of God, the ultimate place of worship, the place where the Lord came to dwell in bodily form.
Now, as we come before the Lord in the temple dedicated to Him, before an altar that is the place of His sacrifice, we need also to make sure that first and foremost it remains as a house of prayer. It is so easy, especially in our day, to allow the church to become anything but a house of prayer. It becomes a meeting hall; it becomes a festival place; it becomes a place where we have concerts and sing-alongs and everything else; it becomes a marketplace. It becomes a den of thieves because we steal from God what is rightly His. The house of God is to be a house of prayer; and instead of allowing people to pray there, we fill it with anything else except prayer. Therefore, we steal from God what is rightly His and we desecrate the temple of the Lord.
But we need also to recognize that as Our Lady is presented in the temple – as each one of us was on the day that we were baptized – so too, Our Lady became the temple of God, as did each one of us on the day that we were baptized. So everything that we can say about the temple of God and His church must be said about our own selves as well. That is, our very self must be dedicated to God. It must be a place of prayer. It must be someplace which is holy. It is the dwelling place of the Most Holy Trinity, and within us must be the altar of sacrifice where we offer to God our prayers, our sufferings, our good works, and so on.
If we look at our own lives, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I living as a temple of God or am I living as a den of thieves?” In other words, how much time do we spend with God? How much time do we spend making this temple of ours – our own person, our own body – a house of prayer? And how much time do we spend doing anything but prayer, filling it with things that should not fill it, sitting in front of filthy television, listening to trash on the radio, doing things that are unbecoming of a Catholic person, doing things that we would be horrified if they were being done in the temple of God? But we are that temple. We need to remember the words of Saint Paul: “The temple of God is holy and if anyone destroys that temple God will destroy him because the temple of God is holy and you are that temple.” We need to consider that very seriously, that each one of us has been dedicated to God. We have been consecrated and set aside for a holy purpose. We have been given to God so that He will be worshiped, so that we will become a house of prayer dedicated to the service of the Lord.
And so, as we consider the joy with which the altar was rededicated in the Old Testament times, a couple of hundred years before Our Lord came to this world; as we consider the purification of the temple as Our Lord cleaned it out; as we consider Our Lady’s presentation in the temple and Our Lord’s presentation, and the joy that was there when Our Lord and Our Lady were presented before the Lord; then we need to look at our own selves and we need to ask very seriously, “Is this a house of prayer or have I become a den of thieves?” If we have become as a den of thieves, then we need to pray and ask Our Lord and Our Lady to purify it so that there will be rejoicing as on the day of Hanukkah, so there will be rejoicing as on the day that Our Lord and Our Lady were presented in the temple, and so that we will be truly a place of worship, a holy place consecrated to God, a house of prayer and no longer a den of thieves.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.