Jesus Den of Thieves


“My house shall be known among all nations for a house of prayer. Whereas you have made it into a den of thieves.” (Mark 11:17) So went Christ’s famous rebuke to the moneychangers and those selling pigeons in the Jerusalem temple, as pictured above.

As he said this he overturned the tables of those overcharging for animal sacrifices and for currency exchanges to pay the fee for temple upkeep. This event appears in all four Gospels, as if to stress our Lord’s anger at such larceny.

In his Gospel, St. John adds the literally striking detail of our Lord’s driving these malicious merchants away as he overturned their tables with a whip he made out of cords.

This famous incident can strike another kind of chord with many of us these days. As more and more people turn away from our faith or from Christianity in general, it certainly feels nowadays like the world has become a den of thieves, among other horrible things, as a result.

I would like to offer here as a good response to our current nightmarish predicament, a great sermon given by St. Jean-Marie Vianney, pictured below, whose Feast day falls on August 4th. He was best known as the Curé of Ars in France, where he served as a priest in the mid-19th century.

Vianney Thoughts on Prayer

He was quite devoted to helping his small flock of only about 200 people on the road to holiness. He first arrived in Ara in 1818. Father Vianney’s reputation as a truly holy priest and confessor grew such that over the years literally tens of thousands of people made pilgrimages to Ars up until his death in 1859. Some 300,000 pilgrims still make the trek to Ars each year!

The Curé himself was such a tireless and effective confessor (hearing confessions for up to 11-16 hours a day) that the devil singled him out for abuse to try to disrupt his work with various supernatural phenomena.

But before I get to with this sermon, I'd like to take a quick overview of our current situation: Fallen humanity has caused and suffered corruption in various waves over the centuries but now it seems like the weeds of larceny, grift, and graft are sprouting up and growing in more directions than ever!

Shoplifting has become practically legal in some of our cities, and carjackings are flourishing as well. From the streets to the suites as they say, the breakdown in morality has been quite noticeable. It seems like at least some of our leaders are “on the take” as the expression goes, with “their right hand full of bribes” (Psalm 26:10) in one form or another.

It is not in my purview to go into the nature of any particular case of malfeasance here. There are numerous social media platforms, websites, and podcasts that can do that more in depth. Nonetheless, one can well argue that part of our current dire situation comes from what are probably a number of shady financial transactions in both corporate and government bureaucracies.

Going back to the Curé of Ars, here are some excerpts from that sermon I’ve mentioned where Jean-Marie Vianney called out those in his agrarian congregation for whom cheating their customers was nothing more than “business as usual”. As one who was not known to mince words, unlike so many of our more mild priests today, he reproaches his own den of thieves here, those parishioners who heard his sermon that particular day!

I’d like to think that if we heard more of this sort of reproach in the pulpits of both Catholic and Protestant clergy alike it might have an effect in waking at least some of those “morally and ethically challenged” among us as to how much danger they might be in, in their souls. Admittedly, they’d have to show up in church to hear it in the first place!

Here are the excerpts from Father Vianney's Sermon:

I tell you that wealth unjustly acquired will never enrich him who possesses it. On the contrary it will become a source of trouble and evil for all his family. Oh, dear God, how blind man is! He is perfectly well aware that he is in the world for a brief space of time only.

The Holy Ghost has told him plainly, through the mouth of the holy man Job, that he came into this world deprived of everything and that he will leave it the same way…St. Paul affirms plainly that it will not be long before anyone who becomes rich through unjust means goes well astray onto the road of sin.

And what is more, he will never see the face of God. That is so true that, without a miracle of grace, a miser, or if you prefer, a person who has acquired some wealth by fraud or cunning, will hardly ever be converted, so greatly does this sin blind anyone who commits it.

Listen to what Saint Augustine says to those who have money which belongs to others. You can, he tells them, go to Confession, you can perform all the penance you like, you can weep for your sins, but unless you make restitution, whenever you can, God will never pardon you...

Either give back what is not yours, or you will have to make up your mind to go to Hell. The Holy Ghost does not stop at merely forbidding us to take and to covet the wealth of our neighbor, He does not wish us even to consider it or dwell upon it lest we should want to lay our hands upon it….

My dear brethren, if I wanted to go into the conduct of all those who are present, I might perhaps find that I had only thieves. Does that amaze you? Just listen to me for a moment and you will realize that it is true…

The most common thefts are those committed in the course of buying and selling. Let us examine this more closely so that you may recognize the wrong that you do and, at the same time, see how you can set about correcting it. When you bring along your produce to sell it, people ask you if your eggs and your butter are fresh. You hasten to answer in the affirmative even though you know that the opposite is the truth. Why do you say that, unless it is to rob two or three pennies from some poor person who has had, perhaps, to borrow them to keep her house going?

Another time it will be the selling of a crop. You will take the precaution of putting the smallest and the poorest specimens in the midst of the bunch. You will possibly say: "But if I didn't do that, I wouldn't sell so much.”

To put it another way, if you conducted yourself like a good Christian, you would not rob as you do. On another occasion, when counting your money, you will have noticed that you have been given too much but you have said nothing: "So much the worse for the person concerned. It's not my fault."

Ah, my dear children, a day will come when you will possibly be told and with more reason, "So much the worse for you!"

Someone wants to buy corn, or wine, or animals from you. He asks you if this corn is from a good year's crop. Without hesitation, you assure him that it is. You have mixed your wine with another of poorer quality, yet you sell it as a good and unadulterated wine.

If people show signs of not believing you, you will swear that it is good, and it is not once but twenty times that you thus give your soul over to the Devil. Ah, my children, there is no need for you to be overanxious to give yourselves to him. You have been his for a long time now!

“What about this animal?" someone else will ask you. "Has it any defects? Don't cheat me now. I have only borrowed this money and if you do I will be in terrible difficulties."

"Oh, indeed no!" you will break in."This is a very good animal. In fact, I am very sorry to be selling it. If I could do anything else I would not sell it at all." In fact, of course, you are selling it because it is worth nothing at all and is no longer of any use to you.

"I do the same as everyone else. So much the worse for anyone who is taken in. I have been cheated; I try to cheat in my own turn; otherwise I would lose too much."

Is it, my children, that if others are damning themselves then you must need damn yourselves also? They are going to Hell. Must you then go along with them? You would prefer to have a few extra pennies and go to Hell for all eternity?

Very well. I am telling you, though, that if you have sold an animal with hidden faults, you are obliged to compensate the buyer for the loss which these defects have caused him; otherwise you will be damned.

“Ah, if you were in our place you would do the very same as we do.” Yes, my dear children, without any doubt I would do the very same as you do if, as you do, I wanted to be damned. but since I want to be saved, I would do the exact opposite of what you do.

As you can see, these words are meant to be strong but loving medicine for the wayward members of Father Vianney’s Flock!

Moving forward to today, is it any wonder that in an age where both Church attendance and belief in God are said to be waning, that suddenly in the past few years we find basic items, such as toothpaste for example, kept literally under lock and key to stop all the shoplifting condoned by municipalities, in various chain stores such as Walgreens, Target, and even Wal Mart?

In most homilies we hear at Masses Hell is heck at best, if it’s mentioned at all, and God’s mercy is stressed over and above His justice. Not that there's anything wrong per se in reminding us sinners of God’s propensity and great desire for forgiveness. That’s why He instituted the sacrament of Penance, after all.

But nowadays many churches don’t offer that vital Sacrament as often as they should, possibly because they think, well, “I’m OK and you’re OK”. For many of us the four last things, Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell have become only two, Death and Heaven.

For everyone else without God’s love, grace, and ,most importantly, guidance, the Holy Trinity has become Me Myself and I. Truth is in the mind of the beholder, although its in an increasingly Woke straitjacket.This feeds into people having all sorts of nasty inclinations, given our fallen nature.

And out of a truly misguided sense of compassion what I once saw referred to as toxic empathy, many of our leaders feel that the only proper atonement for injustices past and present is to let those considered less fortunate whether they actually are or not, engage in shoplifting.

In this spiritually poisonous atmosphere crime becomes an entitlement, as does all sorts of stealing from cookie jars, both public and private. This creates a dangerous incentive for people to engage in either petty theft, grand larceny, or both! The mindset takes hold that "After all, all those guys at the top are ripping everybody off! Why shouldn't I get mine?"

And what’s worse is when everyone thinks of Business Ethics in the private sector as being an oxymoron, the push is strengthened towards nationalizing everything, as those without God think giving Caesar, that is the State, (ultimately Satan) what should rightfully be God's, in terms of how we are to think of morality, that will somehow make everything right.

The problem with that of course is that you can’t nationalize virtue! Sadly, if society could instill in all of us a reverence and love for God and His Commandments, that would get rid of much thievery and other miseries besides. As it is, we’re drowning in wokeism and what Benedict XVI once called the dictatorship of relativism.

Yet while supposedly everyone can have their own facts, not just opinions, increasingly totalitarian temptations are even limiting what is and is not allowed in public and private discourse to those ideas approved by those infused with Statist ideologies, whether ultimately Communist or Fascist, giving Caesar the worship and obedience meant for God and God alone! When so many people give him what belongs to God, in the end we all lose!

Jean-Marie Vianney, like so many other great saints, gives us moving and fitting answers to such madness by reminding us to put God first and foremost in our lives. As the Curé said more than once when finishing a homily urging repentance for sins. “This I what I desire for you!”

Or as he put it at the end of another sermon: "How consoling this thought is, my dear children, for him who has sought only God throughout his life! But what a despairing thought for him who has lost sight of God and of the salvation of his soul!"

God Bless,

Christopher Castagnoli
for www.ourcatholicprayers.com




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