Sunday, November 15, 2015

Homily for 33d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the

33d Sunday of Ordinary Time

Nov. 15, 2015

Heb 10: 11-14, 18

St. Emery, Fairfield, Conn.

St. Emery's pastor, a former SDB, asked me to fill in for him at the 11 o'clock Mass because of another celebration he needed to go to. It was my 1st time at this church--which, I learned, is the last Hungarian national parish in Connecticut. In fact, the 11 is "the Hungarian Mass," and that also was a new experience for me. Of course I used only English, but they sang and responded in Hungarian--all 25 of them (except the deacon). They were happy to have a priest celebrate for them, and the happier when I informed them that Grandpa Mendl has immigrated from Hungary in 1906.

The Crucifixion (Giotto)

“But this [priest] offered one sacrifice for sins and took his seat forever at the right hand of God” (Heb 10: 12).

In the Letter to the Hebrews, we continue to read and reflect on the contrast between the priesthood of the Old Covenant—of the Jewish Law—and the New Covenant priesthood of Jesus, who is “this priest” spoken of in today’s passage from Hebrews.

Last week’s reading (9:24-28) contrasted the blood sacrifices of goats offered year after year in the temple on the Day of Atonement, which benefited only the Jews, with the single sacrifice of Christ’s own blood that benefits all of humanity.  Today’s reading contrasts the daily sacrifices of the Jewish temple—which continued until the Roman army destroyed the temple along with the whole city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.—with that same one sacrifice of Christ.  These daily sacrifices weren’t atonement sacrifices for the sins of the whole people but sacrifices of repentance for indivduals, sacrifices of praise to God, and daily recommitments to the covenant that God had made with Israel under Moses’ leadership at the time of the Exodus.

But don’t we offer the sacrifice of Christ daily?  Isn’t the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ?

Yes, it is.  And as we learned from our earliest catechism lessons, the Mass, the Eucharist, is the one, unrepeatable sacrifice of Jesus.  Jesus isn’t dying over and over again, shedding his blood again and again, when we celebrate Mass.  Rather, the Eucharist makes us present, makes us participants, in his one sacrifice on Calvary—as well as witnesses to his resurrection from the dead.  Thru the Eucharist we enter the mystery of eternity—everyone and every event is always present to God—so that “when we eat this bread and drink this blood we proclaim the death of the Lord” (cf. “the mystery of faith”); we witness his death, participating in the crucifixion of Jesus like the Virgin Mary, the Beloved Disciple, and the holy women on Calvary; and we offer the blood of Jesus together with him and with the entire Church all over the world, the entire Church thruout its 2,000-year history, for the redemption of the world.

The reading continues with a seating chart, you might say.  1st, Christ is seated “at the right hand of God” the Father (v. 12)—a position of honor, authority, and influence. (In our gospel reading 4 weeks ago, the apostles James and John sought such seats next to Jesus, you remember).  As our liturgy often affirms, Jesus intercedes for us from his position of closeness to the Father.  This is his priestly role:  to intercede for the sinners for whom he shed his blood, as last week’s reading told us.  Jesus Christ lives, raised on high to God’s throne—for us.

2d, “until his enemies are made his footstool” (v. 13).  If you did today what many conquerors did in ancient times, you’d be accused of torture:  to make your defeated enemies grovel on the ground and then walk over them, or rest your feet on their backs.  That’s the image offered here.  The phrase is a quotation from Ps 110:1:  “The Lord said to my Lord:  Sit at my right hand till I make your enemies your footstool.”  Psalm 110 points to the Messiah as God’s agent for defeating the enemies of Israel, even to the point of executing judgment on the nations, “heaping up [their] corpses” and bashing heads “over the wide earth” (v. 6).

Jesus’ enemies, however, those whom he will set under his feet (figuratively, not literally), aren’t the pagan nations or even human evildoers like the oppressors of Eastern Europe in the last century or the barbarians rampaging around the Middle East and Europe today.  Jesus defeats Satan and his demonic army; he defeats sin; he defeats death—both our bodily death thru the power of his resurrection, and the eternal death of damnation thru the forgiveness of our sins and our reconciliation with God.  This total defeat of God’s enemies will be completed when Jesus returns at the end of time:  “we proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection, until you come again” (“the mystery of faith”); by his cross and resurrection he has set us free (ibid.)—free from our sins, free from death, free to live forever in our Father’s house.

The reading from Hebrews continues:  “By one offering he has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated” (v. 14).  Christ’s one sacrifice has taken away all our sins, making us perfectly clean and holy before God; and that effect lasts “forever.”  But it is effective only for “those who are being consecrated,” those who are being made holy.  It sounds confusing, no?  That’s because we human beings are free to accept Christ’s work in our lives, to allow him to sanctify us—by being baptized, by returning again and again to him in sorrow for our sins (especially thru the sacrament of Reconciliation), by celebrating the Eucharist; or free not to accept all of that, to refuse to admit Christ to our lives.  In the famous parable of the prodigal son, the younger son, the awful sinner, on returning home is received with open arms and a great celebration feast; but the older son refuses to come into the party despite his father’s pleading; he chooses to stay outside in the darkness.  That kind of choice is ours to make every day, my brothers and sisters:  to let Christ work his perfection in us, to strive to lead holy lives that testify that he has consecrated us—or not.

God bless you!

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