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March 6, 2021
Make Me a Sanctuary
A Reflection from the Christian Traditions
by Thomas P. Bonacci, C.P.
Suddenly, the Liturgy of Lent turns to the Gospel of St. John. In a surprising move, Jesus goes to the Temple in Jerusalem, where he becomes outraged by, what we would call, the commercialization of the Holy Place. Overwhelmed with “zeal,” he forcefully attempts to restore good order by driving out the elements he finds objectionable. The authorities are not too pleased, and the desire to have Jesus destroyed is now firmly in place.
Many consider John’s Gospel to be poetic, theological, if not mystical. Sometimes the long, lofty passage distracts us from the “real” Jesus who did something when he saw something. This episode, found at the beginning of John’s narrative, underscores the reasons why so many loved Jesus as the powerful dreaded him. Jesus clearly understood the intersection of Sanctuary and justice. The Temple was a place of realized memory. Temple rituals invited the memory and realization of what it meant to be a people set free from slavery and oppression. To go up to Jerusalem is to claim one’s dignity. It is not the desire of God to enslave anyone in any way. Worship must be pure, never enabling the oppression or exclusion of others. If the vital connection between Sanctuary and justice for the oppressed is lost, people die in the name of religion.
Our hearts break as we look across America today. So many are falling into the temptation to use religion to oppress and exclude people. Those of us who worship in the Sanctuary must have the presence of mind, the courage of heart, and the zeal of our convictions to liberate the Sanctuary from the powers of oppression as we open our hearts to everyone.
Recall the power and beautiful prayer from the Roman Rite on the occasion of the Dedication of a Sanctuary: “Here may the victims of oppression find true freedom.”
I have come to realize I must dedicate myself to the purification of my own heart. The heart is the true Sanctuary where God invites me to be like God in the pursuit of justice and peace. I cannot demand from others what I do not do myself. I am grateful for all those in the World who disturb the Sanctuary of my heart, inviting me to a higher consciousness and a deeper awareness of the World around me. If I demand justice in the Sanctuary of my formal worship site, I must first find it in my heart and practice it in my life (see Isaiah 1: 11-17).
Thank you, my dear friends, for not being perturbed when someone in the Sanctuary reminds us of the human rights and dignity of those often rejected or compromised by the religion or politics of the day. Thank you for being inspired by Jesus in your pursuit of what is right and just. Thank you for purifying the Sanctuary of your hearts so the oppressed might find friendship, empathy, and respect.
My apologies to you if you ever suffered rejection or exclusion in the place where welcome, respect, and inclusion ought t