Week 32, Sunday. Words of THE WORD

“Let my prayer come into Your presence. Incline Your ear to my cry for help, O Lord." (Psalm 88:3)

Almighty and merciful God,
graciously keep from us all adversity,
so that, unhindered in mind and body alike,
we may pursue in freedom of heart
the things that are yours.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
Praise the Lord, my soul! (Psalm 146:1).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“Christ did not enter into a sanctuary made by hands,
a copy of the true one, but heaven itself,
that he might now appear before God on our behalf.
Not that he might offer himself repeatedly,
as the high priest enters each year into the sanctuary
with blood that is not his own;
if that were so, he would have had to suffer repeatedly
from the foundation of the world.
But now once for all he has appeared at the end of the ages
to take away sin by his sacrifice.
Just as it is appointed that human beings die once,
and after this the judgment, so also Christ,
offered once to take away the sins of many,
will appear a second time, not to take away sin
but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”
(Letter to the Hebrews 9:24-28).

Alexandria’s celebrated third-century evangelizer and catechist, Origen, begins this Sunday’s reflection on the Letter to the Hebrews: “If the ancient custom of sacrifices is clear to you, let us see what these things also contain according to the mystical understanding. You heard that there were two sanctuaries: one, as it were, visible and open to the priests; the other, as it were, invisible and inaccessible. With the exception of the high priest alone, the others were outside. I think this first sanctuary can be understood as this church in which we are now placed in the flesh, in which the priests minister “at the altar of the whole burnt offerings” with that fire kindled about which Jesus said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled.” And I do not want you to marvel that this sanctuary is open only to the priests. For all who have been anointed with the chrism of the sacred anointing have become priests, just as Peter says to all the church, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” Therefore you are a priestly race, and because of this you approach the sanctuary…. Therefore the priesthood is exercised in this way in the first sanctuary and the offerings are offered. And from this sanctuary the high priest, dressed in the sanctified garments, proceeds and enters into the interior of the veil just as we already pointed out above in citing the words of Paul, “Christ has entered not into a sanctuary made with hands but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” Therefore, the place of heaven and the throne itself of God are designated by the figure and the image of the interior sanctuary (Homilies On Leviticus, 9).”

Throughout the Letter to the Hebrews, a contrast is made between the Day of Atonement ritual (the holiest Day in Jewish life, Yom Kippur) and the uniqueness of Who Jesus is and His sacrificial death. With that contrast, another one – somewhat subtler – exists: accessibility and inaccessibility to Divine Life. In terms of life in the Ancient Near Eastern world, sacrifice was a common practice – originally in the polytheistic traditions and continuing later in the monotheistic world. While scholarly debate studies the purpose of sacrifice in the polytheistic world, it is clear that the monotheistic tradition, beginning with Abraham, viewed sacrifice in a different light. Grounded in the Hebrew verb “to cut,” – berit – covenants, especially the covenant of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob with humanity, had a particular ‘task’ – the cutting away of selfishness from life. The relationship uniquely offered by God to humanity required both an exterior and an interior change of heart. That conversion, made possible by the atoning death of Jesus, makes love possible and in the end defines Christian love.
Stated another way, “It is love “to the end” that confers on Christ’s sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when he offered his life. Now “the love of Christ controls us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on 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. “The Council of Trent emphasizes the unique character of Christ’s sacrifice as “the source of eternal salvation” and teaches that “his most holy Passion on the wood of the cross merited justification for us.” and the Church venerates his cross as she sings: “Hail, O Cross, our only hope (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 616-617).”
Thus with a continued focus in this “Year of Faith” on the encounter with the Person Jesus, the Letter to the Hebrews this Sunday places His sacrifice in such a focus that the individual believer and the entire community must come to terms with all obstacles – visible and invisible – that weaken the encounter with Jesus. The love that all persons so deeply hunger for is a love born of sacrifice, a most unique sacrifice offered by a most unique Person, Jesus the Christ.

No comments:

Post a Comment