Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis"

"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). These words should be familiar to us. We say them together and out loud each and every time we participate in the Eucharistic Liturgy. By saying these words I explicitly acknowledge two things: my need for a Savior and that Jesus Christ is the Savior that I need (i.e., my Savior and the Savior of the whole world).

Like so many other responses we give at Mass, we can say these words without giving them any thought, without contemplating what these words mean, what they say to me about my life and how I live it. If nothing else, when we say these words we should acknowledge, as today's USCCB Gospel reflection for this (the second) day of the 9 Days For Life Novena put it, "There is nothing we could ever accomplish on our own that could atone for our daily failures to love others with the merciful and sacrificial love of Christ." That's right, nothing! Without Jesus Christ we are lost. St. John the Baptist, even in the womb, recognized Jesus as Lord and Messiah. As the last of the prophets, he proclaimed the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah.

Jesus gave us effective means in order to communicate to us what He came to give us, which is nothing other than Himself whole and complete. These effective means we call "sacraments." There is a particular sacrament He gave as the very first gift to His Church after His resurrection, having instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper: the Sacrament of Penance in and through which He effectively takes away our sins, or at least the eternal punishment due for our sins, which is hell. Through acts of penance (prayer, fasting, alms-giving) and availing ourselves of indulgences, the temporal punishment, which we must pay, either now or in Purgatory, because experience, that is, life matters, are also lessened, or eliminated. As an act of mercy, we can apply the indulgences we receive to souls in Purgatory.

Yesterday, driving my oldest daughter to her friend's house, we were listening to Barbara McGuigan's "The Good Fight" radio program. She was interviewing Dr. Ralph Martin, whose recently published book (a version of his doctoral dissertation) Will Many Be Saved: What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization, has caused a bit of s stir. One of the points Dr. Martin made during the interview is one that many of us have been making, namely that among Catholics, when it comes to salvation, there seems to be a lot of presumption. I think the brevity, clarity, and urgency of St. John the Baptist's words, a proclamation he made on two successive days, according St. John's Gospel, ought to wake us from any complacency.

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