Sunday, October 18, 2015

Year B Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 53:10-11; Ps 33:4-5.18-20.22; Heb 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45

In our first reading today we hear verses from one of Isaiah’s so-called Servant Songs. The Servant Songs of Isaiah are probably the most direct prophesies of Jesus Christ that we find in all of the books that together comprise the Old Testament. Referring to Christ as the Suffering Servant, Isaiah wrote: “through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear” (Isa 53:11). Indeed, through His suffering and death, Jesus Christ bore the guilt of our sins. Through His resurrection he overcame the consequence of our sin: death.

In one of his daily homilies, delivered the May after he was selected as Pontiff, Pope Francis created a stir when he said, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!” When we discuss salvation we have to know the meaning of words, which is not as difficult as some try to make it out to be. Salvation is an overarching term that, theologically, can be divided into three constituent parts: redemption, justification, and sanctification.

What Pope Francis said was true, everyone is redeemed. Jesus Christ died for all. In his novel Perelandra, C.S. Lewis observed: “When [Christ] died in the Wounded World He died not for men, but for each man. If each man had been the only man made, He would have done no less” (217).

Who is justified? While God offers salvation to all through Christ, He does not force salvation on anybody. Justification is a theological word for freely accepting what God freely offers us through Christ. But even our acceptance is the work of the Holy Spirit, which is why faith is a gift from God. As St Paul wrote: “For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved” (Rom 10:10). Yes, even for Catholics, we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is our response to God’s initiative towards us. God’s initiative towards us we call grace.

Sanctification, which is the theological term for being made holy, is what begins once we are justified. Sanctification is the process of being restored to the likeness of God, which likeness is lost through sin. We cooperate with God’s grace through the everyday circumstances of our lives. Another way to describe sanctification is “becoming Christ-like.”

What does becoming like Christ involve? In today’s Gospel Jesus gives us a very good idea in his explanation to the sons of Zebedee: “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43b-45).

Divine Mercy, besides being the impetus behind our redemption and justification, is indispensable for our sanctification. God’s mercy never ends. It is inexhaustible. In one of his Sunday Angelus addresses, Pope Francis noted: “the Lord never tires of forgiving! It is we who tire of asking forgiveness.” We all need Divine Mercy. Recognizing our need should enable us to become aware that we need to be merciful to others (Eph 4:31-32).

A priest of our diocese, Fr Richtsteig, recently wrote: “The Mercy of God is not magic. Like all Grace, God will not force it on anyone. A person needs to be open to it. For it to be effective, we need to open ourselves to it by repentance. Without repentance, it is as if it did not exist.”

Assuming mercy without repenting, which includes both sorrow for sin and a firm commitment to cooperate with God’s grace in changing our ways, is called presumption. Presumption may be defined as hoping for salvation, relying on God’s mercy and power, without seeking pardon for your sins. We can call this phenomenon the “I’m a pretty good person” syndrome. Christ did not call us to become “pretty good” people, but to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48). This is sanctification.

As followers of Christ, becoming more and more like Him by cooperating with God’s grace is the very point and purpose of our lives. Walking the narrow path Jesus showed us is often hard, frustrating, and even discouraging. This journey lasts a lifetime; when we consider Purgatory, perhaps more than a lifetime. Sanctification is the path of love, which path we cannot walk without the aid of Divine Mercy.

We are assured in our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). It is in and through Jesus, by the power of His Spirit, that we can “confidently approach the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16). Can the throne of grace only be found in heaven? No. Gathered here together today we are before the throne of grace.

When we go to confession we approach the mercy seat, not the judgment seat. In the Old Testament the mercy seat was the golden cover of the Ark of the Covenant. On the Day of Atonement it was on the mercy seat that the High Priest sprinkled the blood of sacrificial animals (Lev 16:14–15). Several chapters on in the Letter to the Hebrews, we read that Christ, the High Priest, “entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12).

On 8 December we begin what the Holy Father has proclaimed as the Year of Mercy. In his letter on the upcoming jubilee, Pope Francis wrote: “It is important that this moment be linked, first and foremost, to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to the celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a reflection on mercy.” What’s our take away today? Receive what you know you need, namely God’s mercy, by going to confession soon and with increased frequency thereafter. Echoing our responsorial Psalm, it is the best way of saying, Jesus, I trust in You.

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