3rd Sunday of Lent

It was the summer examination session of my second last year in the seminary. My colleagues and I were exhausted with the intensive mental effort required to pass the exams. We needed to do something different just for a break. I got an idea for a simple, pretty mindless, but useful physical activity. I’d climbed many times to the top of the tower in the seminary church, and had noticed that the stairs were covered with a two-inch thick layer of pigeon droppings. I suggested to my colleagues that we should clean up the tower; it looked like it would take a couple of hours’ work. We started keenly, although the cramped space, the heat and limited ventilation, the spiral stairs up a deep shaft and poor light made us feel like miners. Shovelling the pigeon poo into sacks and lowering it on a rope to the bottom was agonisingly slow. At one point the conditions became so unbearable that we decided to chuck the droppings directly down the shaft and then remove them from the bottom of the tower. We unleashed sheer hell. A fine choking and blinding dust filled the air and lungs. It wasn’t a wise solution – but it was very effective!

In recent years we’ve seen many institutions and companies, even whole countries, becoming bankrupt, collapsing and disappearing. In virtually every instance, investigations uncovered deep abnormalities and a lack of basic standards. The scale of the financial shambles unveiled recently at Rangers Football Club is shocking. Sometimes it seems that dishonesty and greed are the ‘normal’ way of doing business. As one financial expert said: ‘We privatise gains and we nationalise losses’. At the end of the day that’s us paying the bill. No wonder that the work of politicians along with ‘fat cats’ are among the most hated professions. I’m afraid that, more or less, they rightly are the public scapegoats.

The temple in Jerusalem was a spiritual centre of the world for the Jewish people. It was the most revered and holy place in the entire world.  The temple attracted people living in the Holy Land and many others coming from afar. Its success was at the root of its troubles. Some businessmen sniffed out their chance and started selling animals for sacrifices and exchanging foreign money, as only one currency was permitted for offerings. It started as a small business initiative, but soon grew up to be a full-scale trade. Imperceptibly the temple became part of a business plan, losing its sacred aspect. The salesmen convinced themselves it was OK. Jesus’ intervention shocked them – but only as something ruining their business. He must have known that the situation couldn’t be cured by shouting and the whip. The solution lay somewhere else. Jesus gave us a clue: ‘Destroy this sanctuary, and in three days I will raise it up.’ Saint John added his explanation: ‘He was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body.’

When we were baptised, a foundation stone of God’s temple was laid in us. Individually our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and collectively by faith we are the body of Christ, his holy Church. But it doesn’t make any one of us immune to evil. Each one of us has the capacity to defile this holy temple. Somehow we all are prone to fail and to fall. Usually this begins with a simple acceptance of inappropriate attitudes, behaviours or desires. We always start with a little thing or a little decision, apparently harmless to everybody else. We are very good in inventing excuses and explanations to justify it, aren’t we? And then, step by step, we courageously justify worse and worse things. Interestingly (but not surprisingly) at the same time we become more suspicious and critical of others.

The tower I mentioned at the beginning wasn’t pigeon-proof; but if it had been regularly cleaned we wouldn’t have had to risk our lives and our health to clean it up. Spiritual or moral messes can simply be avoided; not by escaping sins, because that’s clearly impossible; but by spotting a sin in your life as soon as possible and by dealing with it ruthlessly. So keep calm, and clear your soul.