Friday May 27, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Sirach 44:1, 9-13) Gospel (St. Mark 11:11-26)
In the Gospel reading today, we have this interesting story about Our Lord cursing the fig tree. People do not understand why Our Lord would do such a thing, especially when we are told right in the reading that it was not the time for figs. Why would He have expected to find them? And not finding them, why would He have cursed the tree? Well, what Saint Mark tends to do throughout his Gospel is to sandwich these little stories between two others, and the two others on either side are similar and they make clear the meaning that Saint Mark wants us to understand.
This point about the fig tree is surrounding the story about the Lord cleansing the temple. Saint Mark is helping us, then, to understand that we are called to bear fruit, and that there is no such thing in our lives as a time when there should not be fruit. And if we ask ourselves, “What exactly is that going to look like?” He points to the Old Testament passage that says, My Father’s house is a house of prayer for all peoples, but you have turned it into a den of thieves. In other words, if we come into God’s house and we are not praying, we are not bearing fruit. If we are coming into God’s house and turning it into a den of thieves, we are not bearing fruit. We might look real good with all kinds of foliage, but there is no fruit. And if there is no fruit, the Lord is going to curse us, just as He did with the people in the temple. He did not out and out curse them as He did with the fig tree, but He drove them out. He would not let anybody do anything in the temple that they were not supposed to be doing. He would not allow anybody to carry things through the temple.
All we have to do is think for a moment about what goes on in so many Catholic churches today. The sanctuary is no longer the sanctuary; it is a thoroughfare. People are cutting through the sanctuary trying to get from here to there, dragging things around, goofing off, all kinds of things that should not be happening in the sanctuary of the Lord, let alone in the Church in general, but particularly in the sanctuary. People have completely lost respect for the holy place. Consequently, what is happening is that we turn the house of God into a den of thieves instead of into a house of prayer.
How many times people have said that they go to church and they want to pray but they cannot because there are too many people talking and goofing around. They have to get up and leave because there is no opportunity to pray. So, once again, we have turned the house of God from a house of prayer into a den of thieves. We have stolen people’s opportunity to pray. We have stolen the fruits of those who want to be with the Lord because we have turned it into a place where we can carry on idle and familiar chatter because it is more fun than praying. “After all, we have to be relevant; we have to with it.” That is nonsense. We have to pray.
That is the point the Lord is making to us. He tells us explicitly in the Gospel reading that when we come to pray, the first thing we have to do is to forgive anybody against whom we have a grievance so that in turn our heavenly Father will forgive us; and in being forgiven, then we will be able to bear fruit in prayer. If we are carrying something with us, if we are not forgiving, then we cannot approach God with a clean heart. So we need to get rid of whatever stands in the way, or we ourselves (even though we might look good on the outside) are also turning the house of God into a den of thieves.
We need to make sure we are respecting the holy place of God, whether that is the church in general, the sanctuary in particular, or we ourselves who are the temple of the Lord, to make sure that we are a house of prayer, to make sure that we are not robbing God of what is legitimately His and that we are bearing fruit, because if we do not bear fruit, it is made clear what the Lord is going to be doing with us. He will drive us out. In essence, He will curse us and we will wither up and there will be no fruit forever. That is the option, and it is not a good option because there is only one place where there is no fruit borne forever –and that is hell. That is not what we want.
So there is no season in our lives when we should not be bearing fruit for the Lord. There is no season in our lives when we should not be praying. We are called specifically by God and we do not have the option to say, “It’s not time yet. After I get this and that and the other thing done, then I can do the Lord’s work.” No, if the Lord is calling us now, we are to do His work. Even if we are not doing all kinds of apostolic things, the very least that each and every one of us needs to be doing is praying – that is where it all begins – and then go where the Lord sends us to do the work for which He has called us. But, all in all, we need to make sure that God’s house, our soul, is truly a house of prayer and that we are not turning God’s house into a den of thieves.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.