Today’s gospel said that Jesus entered the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling their wares, saying to them, “It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”
When you read those words, what picture came to mind? In your mind’s eye did you see a large temple filled with small booths selling religious items? Did you agree with Jesus, that God’s house should be a house of prayer? That he had a right to get angry with the peddlers selling their wares in the temple? After all, the temple was a holy place. However, do you think this story is just an event that occurred in the past?
Thankfully, most of the gift shops in our shrines and parishes today are not located in our worship space, but the marketplace does still creep into the church in other little ways. Often times, the narthex by the front door has people waiting for us when we arrive or leave at Mass, selling items for fundraisers in the church. This is sometimes offensive to the parishioners that attend Mass though. They feel like they can’t arrive or leave the church in peace, and the sacredness of their worship space has been violated. The church is for prayer and worship and nothing should detract their attention from this.
Sometimes parishioners even quit attending Mass because every single time they went to church, people were hitting them up for more money. Perhaps they were on a fixed income, or struggling as a single parent supporting a family, or are trying to pay off a large medical bill. They are responsible people who are just trying to pay off their debts. Walking past numerous tables selling things in the narthex, or being constantly asked to contribute to a second collection or other worthwhile charity at church, made them feel guilty that they couldn’t afford to contribute to it. They felt like they couldn’t just go to church and worship the Lord without feeling pressured to give more money.
It is hard because the church and it’s ministries need money in order to exist and operate – but it can sometimes send the wrong impression to people if it gets out of hand.
A far better thing would be to build less costly churches so there would be some extra money for the charitable work that also needs to be done in a community. However, most of our churches were built generations ago and it does cost a lot of money to maintain and repair the older buildings. Many of our churches have high ceilings too, that cost a lot to heat and cool. Like it or not though, it does cost money for the church to even exist.
However, many non-Catholics also view the Catholic church’s elaborate buildings, artwork, priest’s vestments, etc. as “pomp and circumstance”. They think that the Catholic church is very wealthy and wonder why we don’t do more charitable work with our money, rather than spend our funds on such fancy buildings?
They have a point. Parishioners only have so much expendable income. It does make you wonder why the buildings can’t be less costly and less elaborate, so our church could do more for the poor?
I realize today’s gospel may not be a very upbeat, cheerful topic, but Jesus addressed it anyway, and it does still need to be addressed in our modern times too.
My mother and father in law did not have a strong faith in God to begin with. Eventually, the last straw for them was when they felt like they were continually being “hit up” for money every single time they went to Mass. This eventually caused them to quit attending Mass, because it seemed to be more about money than faith. The last 20 years of their life they never went to church again.
This is probably why Jesus got angry in today’s gospel. Church is supposed to be about worshipping God, not making money. The salvation of souls are at stake. People should be focused on giving their respects to God and renewing their relationship with Him during their time in prayer at Mass.