Offers food for thought
Easter Series: Part 2
(Homily as preached, audio)
The 1st reading this week focuses on the nature of a Christian Community, whose hope “safeguarded through faith”, enabled them to be “devoted [themselves] to the teaching of the apostles”, Celebrating Eucharist and engaging in Prayer. Because they allowed the power and the glory of God to be manifested through their faithfulness, “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” The 2nd reading, zooms in on the nature of the faith of the early Church which was rooted firmly in “a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading…” and although they had not seen him they loved him and believed in him, rejoicing as they attained their salvation. 1 Peter 1:9 Together, these Scriptures teach us how to deal with our unbelief and lack of faith, such as seen in the Gospel reading among the disciples whose hearts are growing hard after arrest, torture and death of Jesus.
We have increasingly equated the terms ‘unbeliever’ with ‘non-believer and ‘doubter’ with a person who has no faith, however, very often when Jesus speaks of unbelief, lack of faith and doubt… he’s speaking to those who follow him. “Do not be unbelieving, but believe." John 20:27 “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.” John 20:29 These words were spoken to Thomas, but also to all the disciples in the room that day and to all the disciples down through the ages. The scriptures make clear that the power of God, the manifestation of God’s glory comes through the Church, the mystical ‘Body of Christ’. This power and glory is greatly affected by the unbelief, lack of faith, doubt in the hearts and minds of the disciples of Christ.
There is no way that we can whitewash the history of the Church without altering the Word of God! We can clearly see that amid the varying accounts in the four Gospels, the underlying agreement about the disciple’s reaction to the resurrection of Jesus, is that they were not united in believing that he had really risen from the dead; they were not ‘listening to him’ very well; and they definitely weren’t rushing to go anywhere. The Gospel of Mark most clearly describes the unbelief of the disciples, as well as how Jesus felt about their lack of faith. Is it any wonder that the followers of Christ struggle with what they believe and often grow hard of heart in this age, when even his disciples who lived with him, struggled? Is it any wonder, if Christians experience these difficulties, that others in the world around us would find it hard to believe?
Despite their hardness of heart, and their unbelief. Even though, according to the traditional understanding that except for John, they all abandoned him. Jesus didn’t abandon them. The nature of God’s love makes mercy possible. The kind of mercy that inspires forgiveness which leads to reconciliation and healing. Mercifully, he passes through the wall behind which they hide full of fears, regret, and guilt; and he appears to them. “Peace with you.” He transforms their fear into joy. He affirms their mission; “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” They are to bring about reconciliation between God, humanity and the whole of creation. As Jesus breathes on them and speaks the words, "Receive the Holy Spirit, for those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained,” they become apostles of his mission who are ordained for ministry, and participants in his power and authority.
Neither does Jesus abandon us in our weakness, but rather comes to us and helps us to leave sin and death behind and become a resurrection people who are fully alive in their freedom. Just the thought of Christ's mercy fills us with confidence and hope, so much more are we filled when we are fully open to the power of his sanctifying grace at work in us.
To receive the love and mercy of God and be moved to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, it’s essential to allow the gift of faith and fellowship with our brothers and sisters to move us to believe that God will not abandon us, that God does love us and does forgive us. This requires being honest with ourselves and with God. We must admit that although we have faith, we lack faith; that although we believe, we suffer unbelief. If we don’t openly admit these things, we will not be able to overcome them. That’s when, what was once true hope in Christ, is replaced by doubt.
People think that doubt is unforgivable, but obviously, Scripture teaches that it is not unforgivable. Questions or concerns about the teachings of the faith aren’t in themselves a problem. However, when we let them lead us to being trapped between certainties and uncertainties, we will begin to feel adrift in a sea of competing ‘truths’ and increasing doubt. We will experience a multiplication of doubts if we don’t act to address their underlying causes. That’s how the cancer grows, undermining spiritual health and our ability to trust God and understand the faith. It gives rise to fear. Fear leads to despair, the loss of hope. The lack of hope and trust destroys joy, leaving a miserable, defeated, guilt-ridden, angry, bitter, confused or just plain ambivalent believer. For many, this becomes unbearable and inspires a person to turn away from God.
It’s important to guard against erosion of our faith, which is more precious than gold, by taking our cues from the early church in the 1st reading. Fellowship with other members of the ‘Body of Christ’ is essential to spiritual health. We should honestly admit our struggles with each other and our shortcomings to each other and pray for each other. James 5:16-18 Prayerfully read the Word of God, have real and honest conversations with God, choose to have friends who love Jesus, and don’t keep your faith to yourself. Frequently receive the Sacraments from which the grace of God flows and devotion to the teachings of the apostles leads to greater understanding of those teachings. Through these essential aspects of spiritual health our faith becomes firm, our intellects more perfectly formed and our will more united with God.
Doubts breed in our minds, our emotions, our wills, and what do you do about it will determine your world view and the course of your life. When you find that unbelief, lack of faith and hardness of heart are creating fertile ground for doubts to grow, cling to your hope and petition God for help. Be ready to reflect and uncover the root of your doubt by asking tough questions. Turn to your brothers and sisters in faith for the help and support that you need. Don’t let your faith starve for lack of effort. Decide on a course of action, a remedy that you’ll follow to fight the forces that undermine your faith.
God’s love and mercy not only forgives us and reconciles us, it can also transform as it heals us. The unity of community and fellowship which was described in the first reading, “The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul,” is only possible if love, mercy, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation are at the heart and foundation of all relationships. In this, we are reminded of the words of Christ as to the two greatest commandments.
Readings: Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3:1-4, or First Corin; John 20:1-9
Easter Series - Part 1
The Resurrection is the definitive, without which our faith is in vain. “But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-19
The basis of our faith is the fact of the empty tomb and the extraordinary transformation of the disciples. Only the reality of the Resurrection can explain the history of the Church. As the Easter Sunday Gospel reading said, the Beloved Disciple saw the empty tomb and believed. Overcome with joy and enthusiasm, all the apostles and the disciples who were present in and around Jerusalem and Galilee at the time of the resurrection, experienced transformation from being fearful people to being afraid of nothing. The weak become strong, the foolish become the wise, the apostles who (it seems) became so frightened for their lives that they didn’t even go to Golgotha, suddenly become the most powerful agents of change the world has ever seen. The Church, founded upon the apostle who denied Jesus three times, grew and continued to spread after they died – even to this day. Only the abiding presence of the Lord can explain this, and only the resurrection explains the abiding presence of the Lord.
Baptism, as Paul tells us, is both a dying to one’s past and an entry into new life. When we receive baptism, we die in Christ. We go under the water to represent descending into death, but we also bind our fate with that of Christ’s and rise from the waters of death into new life. “How can we who died to sin yet live in it? Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires.” Romans 6:2-12 Every disciple who loves Jesus is one who sees — and believes with all his heart, all his mind, his soul… in a Risen Lord. Every disciple who loves God and Neighbor, lives free and does not go back to slavery. By the grace of God, ‘go and sin no more’.
(Preached homily for Easter Sunday focuses on this next paragraph. Listen on iTunes or SoundCloud)
Jesus and Paul lead us into an understanding of what is necessary for living the new life in Christ, by pointing us in reflection to the way in which bread is made, and the importance of the ‘active agent’, the yeast. In today’s second reading we are reminded how, at the Jewish Passover during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Jews were expected to throw out all the yeast, old leavened bread and to prepare new, unleavened bread. The fermentation caused by the leaven, the yeast, was, under these circumstances, understood to be a kind of corruption, as in the way described by Jesus when teaching the parable of the leaven of the Pharisees. Paul says, “Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” 1 Corinthians 5:6
Paul continues, “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb…” 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 The unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, is ready for the leaving that comes from the Kingdom of Heaven, which Christ spoke of when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.” Matthew 13:33 In this parable Jesus likens the power of the kingdom of heaven as leaven to raise us up, to that of a huge amount of yeast! This is the great truth of living a ‘resurrection life’, the life of freedom found in Christ. Jesus will give new life to every single person who accepts him as Lord, who accepts him as the Way, Truth and Life. “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” John 10:10
Today, on Easter - Resurrection Sunday, we have a new hope. It is new because for some it is the first dawning of their conversion in Christ, for others it is a time to renew faith, renew commitment, renew our knowledge and understanding of God’s great love and mercy and to recommit ourselves to living the meaning of our Baptism and Confirmation; that all are called to holiness - "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48
As the Catechism states in paragraph 2015, the way of perfection passes by way of the Cross and because "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity," LG 40 § 2 it is always true to say that no disciple of Christ will escape discovering that there is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” Timothy 2:4 in this new life. Responding to that universal call to holiness means that we become actively engaged in spiritual progress which involves our transformation and transfiguration. The mystic saints taught unceasingly about ascent of the path of spiritual union that gradually leads to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes.
God calls us all to this intimate union. This union, called "mystical" because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments - "the holy mysteries" - and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Reflections on 'Trinity of Love': Eucharist, Priesthood, Service (Holy Thursday - Mass of the Lord's Supper)
Conclusion to the Lenten Series 2017
In the plan of God, the Jewish Paschal Meal becomes the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. The promise that through the chosen people, all would be blessed, is realized in this new Passover, which offers a liberation for all people, from sin. There is a new Lamb, the Lamb of God; a new unleavened bread, the Bread that is the Body of the Risen Lord. The blood of the lamb is now replaced with the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus, the new sacrifice once for all, who takes away the sin of the world.
Yesterday, the priests of the diocese gathered with the Bishop at the Cathedral for the Chrism Mass – Blessing of the Oils, and we made our solemn renewal of priestly promises to the Bishop, witnessed by the faithful. This annual renewal highlights the image of the Church as a priestly people made holy by the sacraments and sent forth in mission to share the Good News.
Tonight, we enter the upper room, together with Jesus and his apostles. It was in this upper room of the Last Supper that the Eucharist was instituted and from it the Priesthood was born, and they are indissolubly linked until the end of the world. Tonight, the universal church gives thanks to God for these great gifts, the permanent presence of Christ with us, in the Blessed Sacrament and in the ministerial priesthood. “There can be no Eucharist without the priesthood, just as there can be no priesthood without the Eucharist” (Gift and Mystery. On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination, New York, 1996, pp.77-78)
Both the Eucharist and the priesthood are mysteries of faith. The same mystery of sanctification and love, the work of the Holy Spirit, which makes the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, is at work at the moment of priestly ordination. The Church teaches that “the ministerial priest... effects the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the person of Christ and offers it to God in the name of all the people” (Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, 10). As one of these priests, I am increasingly amazed and often overwhelmed by this extraordinary reality.
Instituting the Eucharist and the Ministerial Priesthood are not all Jesus did at the Last Supper. In fact, we might say he gave us an image of an ‘active Love Trinity’. Loving us to the end, he gave us the Eucharist. For love of us, he gave us Priests to open the gates of heaven through Sacraments, from which grace flows. For love of us, he showed us how to love Him by lovely serving others. There are many ways to serve in love, but first among them are the vocations of Marriage and Religious Life. Today we focus our attention on sacrificial love experienced and given through priestly vocations.
We can never cease to pray that priests will never be lacking in the Church, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” To pray means to keep our gaze fixed on Christ, confident that there will be an abundant growth, by the work of the Holy Spirit, of the seeds of those vocations needed in every age for the Church's life and mission.
Part One of the Lenten Series
Part Two of the Lenten Series
Part Three of the Lenten Series
Part Four of the Lenten Series
Part Five of the Lenten Series
Part Six of the Lenten Series
Audio version of this homily, as preached at Mass
Introduction to the Easter Series
We live in troubled times. Events and cultural shifts in our day, are causing great distress in people around the world. There is a growing ‘despair’ eroding even the hope of Christians. If we forget the ages of past human history and become focused on the contents of the 24-hour news cycle, we might wonder if this is truly, ‘the end of humanity’. Rest assured, although we live in a time of enormous cultural shifts as regards reason, morality, faith, truth and the nature of the human person… this is not the worst time in history and God is neither surprised nor absent.
Our reason for hope is never overcome, and our convictions regarding the victory of Christ, over spiritual death - eternal separation from God, remain firmly established. God is God of past, present and future. “They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.” Isaiah 40:31 Why? Because God said ‘I will be with you’. How? Through his Son Jesus who is called Emmanuel ‘God with us’. “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, Jacob, and formed you, Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you. For I, the LORD, am your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3
Where does our hope come from?
St. Peter says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” 1 Peter 1:3 Hope springs from that new birth which comes through Jesus' resurrection and who through the Holy Spirit, “poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life." Titus 3:6-7.
God promised eternal life and cannot lie. John 5:24 , 1 John 2:24-26, Titus 1:2 The hope of eternal life is assured by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Acts 17:31 This hope impels us to unceasingly do the work of the Lord. 1 Cor. 15:50-58 This hope rests on the immutable nature of God. God keeps us in the hope that does not disappoint. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath. Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Rom 5:1-11
Therefore, we hope in the glory of heaven as promised by God, as long as we remain those who love him and do his will. Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 7:21.
What is this living hope?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by the power of God are safeguarded through faith, to a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the final time. In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, as you attain the goal of [your] faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:3-9
Christian hope is not a desire for some future thing which we are uncertain of attaining. It is full assurance or absolute confidence that God only makes promises that God intends to keep. As St. Paul said, “We earnestly desire each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of hope until the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, are inheriting the promises.” Hebrews 6:11-12 Matthew 10:22 We are to intensely desire and be fully confident that Jesus Christ is coming again with grace for his people. This desire is to remain undiminished in the life of a disciple of Christ. St Peter also reminds us that our continued possession of a confident and certain hope, is predicated on living lives of increased holiness. That we are to “live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy,” 1 Peter 1:13-16
Hope protects us in the struggle of salvation: "Let us . . . put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation." 1 Thess 5:8 Living hope is firm, and fruitful. It changes the way we see and interact in the world. “It is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in the promises of the Father and authoritatively repeated and affirmed by the Son and sustained in us with the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 1817
Confidence in our hope…
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." Hebrews 10:23 But, we are a skeptical crew and so words by themselves aren’t enough. It’s important to trust the source, the one speaking, the one making the promises and although ‘believing without seeing’ is part of the Christian life, evidence is also important. We have this assurance, first and foremost in the testimony of the saints in the Word of God and from the cloud of witnesses through the ages. Confident hope, fueled by grace and enlivened by the Holy Spirit, is made firm through hearing ‘the Good News’ of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Word of God is “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12, Wis 18:15–16; Is 49:2; Eph 6:17; Rev 1:16; 2:12.
The testimony that Jesus rose from the dead is a declaration that Jesus Christ is alive, as the prophets foretold and the promises of God assured. The resurrection of Jesus certifies our hope. As St. Paul says “But if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-19ff
Nourishing our Hope…
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the prayer to Our Father which was taught to us by Christ. It is the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire. We can also look to St. Augustine as a partial source of this teaching, who taught in his little Catechism called the ‘Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love’; that everything that pertains to hope is embraced in the Lord’s Prayer.
Briefly, the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ in the Gospel according to Matthew has seven petitions. Three of them ask for eternal blessings, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven,” and four ask for temporal blessings which are the necessary antecedents to the attainment of the eternal. “Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.”
The Gospel of Luke, although virtually the same as that in Matthew, only has five petitions, but they help us to see how the seven in Matthew are to be understood. God's name is hallowed in the spirit; and God's kingdom shall come in the resurrection of the body. Luke considers the third petition as a sort of repetition of the first two, and therefore omits it. “Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.” Then he adds three others, folding the fourth one (in Matthew) into his third, because it is implied, so that every man is to understand that he is delivered from evil in the very fact of his not being led into temptation. “Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”
Giving ‘reason’ for our hope…
“Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,” 1 Peter 3:15 Catholics today can understand this in the sense of ‘apologetics’. We need to be prepared to defend / explain ‘give reason’, for what we believe, teach, and practice. The letter of Peter goes on to say, “but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the spirit. In it he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark, in which a few persons, eight in all, were saved through water. This prefigured baptism, which saves you now. It is not a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers subject to him.” 1 Peter 3:16-22
Our hope leads to love…
Our conduct conforms to our passions or desires. Formerly we were ignorant, not knowing the glory of God and the hope he offers through Christ, and we set our ‘hopes’ on things of the world. But now we are being transformed with passions and desires in union with the will of God.
“Finally, all of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving toward one another, compassionate, humble. Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing. For: ““Whoever would love life and see good days must keep the tongue from evil and the lips from speaking deceit, must turn from evil and do good, seek peace and follow after it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears turned to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against evildoers.”” 1 Peter 3:8-12
God wills that in loving him, we would love our neighbors. Hope is the power for holy love. A person who hopes intensely in Jesus Christ, who longs to see him and be with him, will inevitably start to think and feel and act like Jesus. "Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure" 1 John 3:3
“Therefore, gird up the loins of your mind, live soberly, and set your hopes completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy.” 1 Peter 1:13–15
There is only one basic reason why we disobey the commands of Jesus: it’s because we don’t really believe that he loves us, we don’t hope fully in God's promise. Therefore, our desire to listen, to be obedient is diminished and we increasingly believe that what we do, doesn’t matter. But we do matter, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” John 3:16
Part Six of the Lenten Series
The theme of today’s liturgy, and throughout Holy Week, is clear that what Jesus freely chose to experience for us; the ridicule, arrest, torture and death, is a manifestation of God’s boundless love. Out of love for his Father and all of creation, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death: "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” to destroy the power of death. He says to all who hope in Him, “because I live, you shall live also”. "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous.” By being obedient to death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who "makes himself an offering for sin", when "he bore the sin of many", and who "shall make many to be accounted righteous", for "he shall bear their iniquities". Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.
The Palm Sunday liturgy is both a reminder of triumph and the tragedy. It is triumph as he entered Jerusalem and as he died on the cross. For the followers and the curious, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was an occasion of great joy and celebration. They loved Him, shouting and waving branches and making a royal path. The people were joyfully celebrating Jesus the king, the Liberator of the heart and mind, the destroyer of sorrow and restorer of life and joy. There was a triumphant joy among his followers that Jesus himself joined to all of creation which had groaned for this moment of salvation, as he said "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out."
It is also an example for us of what is necessary for our triumph over sin and to live in freedom. He shows us some of the fruits of righteousness in God. Jesus hears and does what the Father says and desires, he listens and is obedient as he is moved by his love to encounter us in our depravity and communicate grace so that we might be transformed and enter that new life of freedom in truth. In the garden, Jesus stands authoritatively firm and charitable to those who came to arrest him, even to Judas who betrays him with a kiss. In the face of ridicule and interrogation, he maintains his dignity and remains steadfastly resolved. During the betrayals of Peter, the silence and absence of the other apostles and the lukewarm faith of the ones who followed him; he continues to think of nothing but the needs of humanity, forgiveness of the persecutors crimes, and the coming victory of his love over death and darkness.
It was a tragedy as the dark forces inspired rage, hatred, fear and despair even in his closest friends. But even as emotions raged, having been fueled by the words of the Sanhedrin after the raising of Lazarus, "everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation," the voice and plan of God could be heard and seen in the words of the high priest Caiaphas as he unknowingly prophesied: "It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.”
The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of "the righteous one, my Servant" as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin. Citing a confession of faith that he himself had "received", St. Paul professes that "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.”
How did Jesus save us?
The sacrifice of Jesus "for the sins of the whole world” expresses his loving communion with the Father. From the first moment of his Incarnation the Son embraces the Father's plan of divine salvation in his redemptive mission: "My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.” God "did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all", so that we might be "reconciled to God by the death of his Son". Although Man's sins are punishable by death we "were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers. . . with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”.
John the Baptist looked at Jesus and pointed him out as the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". By doing so, he reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant who silently allows himself to be led to the slaughter and as the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel's redemption at the first Passover. Christ's whole life expresses his mission: "to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” God "shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” In suffering and death, by embracing in his human heart the Father's love for men, his humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men.
It is love "to the end” that confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemptive and reparative, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take upon himself the sins of all men and offer himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the divine person of the Son, who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons, and constitutes himself as the Head of all mankind, makes possible his redemptive sacrifice for all. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Whether that atonement had to occur in the way that it did has been a matter of theological debate. Some wonder, what kind of loving God would demand such horrific suffering to ensure divine justice? As the Scriptures have taught, the people have always believed and the Church has affirmed; the sacrifice was necessary -- but even St. Augustine of Hippo, asked in his De Trinitate: "Is it necessary to think that being God, the Father was angry with us, saw his son die for us and thus abated his anger against us?"
St. Anselm, who was the 11th century Archbishop of Canterbury and was declared a ‘Doctor of the Church, said in his book entitled Cur Deus Homo (“Why God Became Man”), that human sin has “infinitely offended” God and that God requires an “infinite satisfaction” in order to restore divine honor. He taught that Christ's sacrificial death was necessary to liberate humanity from sin and restore communion with the Father, that the blood of Jesus was "payment" to God for human sin. Although the theology of salvation affirmed in the work by St. Anselm in his late 70’s and just 10 years before his death, prevailed, it was challenged by scholars such as the very young philosopher Peter Abelard, a contemporary of Anselm, who insisted that Christ's death on the cross had been an act of love, not payment.
As is true in so many philosophical and theological discussions / wars of competing ideas, both aspects are essential to understanding how and why we are saved by the cross. Each focuses on a particular aspect but neither need negate the truth exposed by the other.
Part One of the Lenten Series
Part Two of the Lenten Series
Part Three of the Lenten Series
Part Four of the Lenten Series
Part Five of the Lenten Series
Conclusion of the Lenten Series
Audio version of this homily, as preached at Mass
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.