Zeal For My Father’s House – Charles Lafferty SAC

Gospel Passage:                  John 2: 13-25

charlesJust before the Jewish Passover Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and in the Temple he found the people selling cattle and sheep and pigeons, and the money changers sitting at their counters there. Making a whip out of some cord, he drove them all out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all of this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’ Then his disciples remembered the words of scripture: Zeal for your house will devour me. The Jews intervened and said, ‘What sign can you show us to justify what you have done?’ Jesus answered, ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this sanctuary: are you going to raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body, and when Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the words he had said.

During his stay in Jerusalem for the Passover many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he gave, but Jesus knew them all and did not trust himself to them; he never needed evidence about any man; he could tell what a man had in him.

I’d like to start off then with a few comments on the Scripture that we have just heard. This passage comes from the Gospel for next Sunday – the 3rd Sunday of Lent which is just under half way through Lent and I suppose our gathering today is for reflection, nourishment, even to come away for a little while. I find it interesting that this event of Jesus clearing the Temple of all the different people is to be found in all four of the Gospels – the difference is that in John it is found in the 2nd chapter whereas  for all the other Evangelists it comes in the final half if not even later: the connection I make with today is that as we have just started our Lenten journey it is good for us to explore what drives us – John obviously sees this event as one of the key points in the journey of Jesus whereas for the other 3 writers they build up towards it.

Another point that I would like to make is how there was the basic right for all the different people in the Gospel – those who were selling cattle, sheep and pigeons and the money changers – all of these were entitled to be there in the courtyard to provide for the sacrifices and to ensure that no other idols (that would have been on the coins) were brought into the Temple. The actions that Jesus did perhaps called each of these people to examine whether they were there for the money or for more noble and spiritual reasons. Liam spoke of how we are transformed and I would say that perhaps as we are transformed we become aware of what it is that is driving us on our journey – we all have roles to carry out – both in the world and in the Church – but these do not have to be separated – so as they come together perhaps as an interface, just as the people in the Gospel interfaced with people coming from the world into the Temple, perhaps the first question I might pose is how does or could Jesus whip up a storm in our daily actions and in how we witness to God’s love – especially when it comes to the Union and of what we do or what we can do for it?

            This brings me onto the topic of zeal – John’s passage is the only one of the four Gospel pieces where zeal is mentioned and I remember googling zeal and it was commented that it was used particularly in religious circles and more so in ancient times that it would be now. The definition of zeal that I found was that it is a fervour for a person, cause or object; an eager desire or endeavour and an enthusiastic diligence – the fact then that this quality is mentioned at the start of John’s Gospel is perhaps to show how it carried Jesus in his journey to the cross and even endure the cross and so we can ask what was it or is it that drives each of us.

It may be helpful to look at other references to zeal in the Bible – as we heard in the passage, the mention of zeal was prompted from another part of scripture and it was from Psalm 69(68) – in this psalm the motive revolves around the struggle of the writer, of how the waters have reached up to his neck but this zeal for God is what spurs on the Psalmist (well this is my reading of it at least). A comment in my Bible noted that it is a reality check that humiliation will or can accompany the graces and the glory that God gives us but it is also for us to keep our pride in check and make sure that we do put our trust in God.

Another aspect of zeal that is found in the Old Testament kind of goes contrary to what I have been saying when it comes to zeal – that perhaps I see zeal as something that comes from within us, which is still true, but also it is something that we are called to wrap ourselves in as in a cloak and this is mentioned in Isaiah (59:17). This led me on to believe that as we look back at what we were zealous for it is something then that we can use again to cover ourselves with in times of trial.

A final and topical reference to zeal is to be found in the Book of Revelations where it says: ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent’ (Rev 3:19) I think this links in nicely with the season of Lent where we are called to repentance and in doing so we can become that bit more zealous. There are of course other mentions of zeal – both directly and indirectly – but I think I’ll stop at this point. Does anyone have any comments or questions?

            We can see many examples of people that show this zeal in their passions of life – I’m sure we could all relate to a particular sportsperson who would be driven to be successful in their respective sport. There are also great politicians like Abraham Lincoln, John Hume or Nelson Mandela who despite the obstacles put in their ways did not stop until their vision was achieved. There are many Saints of course that display Christian zeal such as Mother St Theresa, St Benedict and St Anthony.

For the next part I’d like to bring in our founder, Saint Vincent. Before I even thought of zeal and any reference that there might be in his writings, I initially thought of his mantra: Seek God and you will find him. Seek him in everything and you will find him in everything. Seek him always and you will always find him – I’m not too sure why this came to mind but perhaps it was the three ways that St Vincent framed the seeking – you know seek God, then in everything and then always and it just makes me question my motivations and the energy that it does take to find God – if I’m in that little bit more of a zealous mood its easier but if the mood isn’t quite so zealous then I’m making it harder for myself. For Pallotti then, one of the people for him that is most zealous in carrying out the will of God was Mary. In his writings he wrote that [Mary is] the perfect example of universal zeal and perfect charity. She laboured tirelessly in the works of salvation for the greater glory of God.            (OOCC, I, p. 7)

So for St. Vincent, Mary worked unfailingly for the salvation of God’s people and the glory of God. From the moment Mary accepted her call from God to cooperate in God’s plan of salvation of humankind, she never once looked back. She often did not quite understand God’s plan for her, as many things did not happen as she expected. But having offered herself as the handmaid of the Lord, she was totally ready to accept God’s plan as it unfolded in her personal history. From caring for Jesus as he grew up, accompanying him in his public ministry, to sharing in his sufferings and then when Jesus ascended she was there with the apostles, together for their strengthening by the Spirit of God at Pentecost. In this manner, Mary cooperated with God’s plan for her and helped Jesus in every way so that he could accomplish the salvation of humankind. All these point to her zeal for the apostolate and the mission of universal charity. This means then that for us we too can use Mary as that role model of zeal – I’m not too sure if this links in with the current monthly Union meetings which are devoted to Mary – but hopefully it helps us to understand how zeal and Mary go hand in hand.

            St Vincent also wrote that: ‘When [an apostle] acts with true zeal and fervent love, there is no temptation, no difficulty and no obstacle he cannot overcome.’   (OOCC, II, p. 162) and this is really what we need to keep in mind today and in the days, weeks and years ahead as carry out our mission in the Union. For St. Vincent Pallotti, true zeal and fervent love are two qualities that help an apostle in their apostolic endeavours. The virtue of zeal helps a person to be enthusiastic about their life as an apostle and interested in their apostolic task. A zealous person’s mind is totally focused on God. They accept God as the source of all that they are and all that they have. Hence, their whole life is focused on doing whatever they do to bring the glory of God and happiness to others. A person with true zeal never thinks of themselves but always happily gives themselves to others’ needs. A zealous person is a happy person who is always grateful to God for the many blessings they have received from God. Similarly, the quality of fervent love makes a person dynamic in their apostolate. A person of fervent love is one who has experienced the infinite love of God deep within themselves. He/she knows that they have been the object of God’s love. Having experienced the love of God, they attempt to respond to the God of love totally and fully. Their apostolate becomes a means through which they expresses their love for God. By reaching out to others in loving concern through our apostolate, we return our gratitude to God. According to St. Vincent, when these two qualities of true zeal and fervent love are present in a person, they become very effective in their apostolate. Such a person has built themselves on the rock of God’s love so that nothing can disturb them from being faithful to their apostolate. Neither temptations nor difficulties can become obstacles to the path we have set out for ourselves in God’s name. With true zeal and fervent love we carry on the apostolate despite problems.

            When St Vincent talks about the apostolic life I feel that he is looking at the witness that we give in life to those around us. Henri Nouwen wrote that ‘Jesus shows us the way of being witnesses. He was so full of God’s love, so connected with God’s will, so burning with zeal for God’s Kingdom, that he couldn’t do other than witness. … If we want to be witnesses like Jesus, our only concern should be alive with the love of God as Jesus was.’ (Bread for the Journey, August 10).

Pallotti also linked zeal with his view on what a priest should be and I think we could all relate to this in some level. St Vincent commented that: ‘The priest, who does not possess this zeal [for the mission of Christ] is in great danger of losing his own soul, as well as endangering the souls of others.           (Lett., 1092, p. 236)

            According to St. Vincent Pallotti, a priest must possess true zeal for the mission of Christ and I would go that little bit further to say that in this time that we find ourselves living in, we all need to possess that zeal. Not all of us may be priests but we can be pastors to our parents, our children or our friends and this is where zeal can be important in our lives. For it is the zeal for the kingdom of God that gives dynamism and purposefulness to our life and our activities. Without genuine zeal and enthusiasm, our life becomes static, inactive and purposeless. A static and purposeless life is unproductive. If we are not able to be productive pastorally, then a degree of uselessness, meaninglessness and lethargy can set in. When we find that there is no meaning in his life, we will be in great danger of losing our calling. If this happens, we may never be able to work for the salvation of our neighbour, but this is perhaps why St Vincent sees it as how we can thus endanger the salvation of our neighbour as well as our own. Hence, St. Vincent advised his followers to cultivate a genuine zeal for God and his mission. In his own life, he was a zealous and enthusiastic priest who loved Christ and his mission. He was involved in a number of confraternities and pious associations from his younger years. His zeal for God’s kingdom made him found the Union of Catholic Apostolate for the purpose of reviving faith and re-enkindling charity among Catholics and propagating the same among non-believers. It is this dynamic and zealous spirit for the kingdom of God that St. Vincent wanted to communicate to his followers and he may be communicating this to us today. In doing this we are asking him to make us zealous labourers in the vineyard.

Pope Francis: I would now like to bring in some points that Pope Francis makes in Evangelii Gaudium. There are six references to zeal in his book with another one that is a reference to a document from the time of Pope John Paul II and one from a document of Pope John XXIII, although I will only comment on a few of them. The first few deal with how we are called to preserve our zeal by saying no to selfishness, spiritual sloth (where we may get lazy or sluggish spiritually) and being too pessimistic or by having the funeral face. Pope Francis also calls us to identify properly with the Church and the proclamation of the Gospel in our lives so that we can be in a society of fraternity and justice – so that the message is accepted with courage and zeal. Finally he appeals to us to remember the zeal that the early members of the Church showed and how we are now called to replicate that and this indeed is done by having that personal encounter with Jesus and bringing this personal event into our community and that I feel is what we must do in our lives and in the Union.

            I found the following Proverb: Zeal is fit only for the wise but is found mostly in fools. I’m not saying that if we are wise that we do not have any zeal or if we do have zeal that we are fools but if we do possess zeal we may know that we could be fools and if we are, then as St Paul says: Let us be fools for Christ!!