Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fourth Sunday of Lent

 De quid sit beneplacitum Deo
Lectio Quarta [1]

Instruction for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
3rd of April, 2011

Parish of Saints Peter and Paul
Rev. Mr. Michael Taylor

·         First Sunday of Lent: Concerning the knowledge of good and evil
·         Second Sunday of Lent: Concerning the call to holiness
·         Third Sunday of Lent: Concerning why hope is necessary
·         Fourth Sunday of Lent: Concerning what is pleasing to God
·         Fifth Sunday of Lent: Concerning why our faith is salvific
·         Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion: Concerning how to be a martyr

For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light. For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice and truth; proving what is well pleasing to God.[2]

How many of you have wondered what it takes to please God? I ask because it can often appear that God is never happy with us, that he is constantly asking us for something more. I mean, there’s a reason we talk about Catholic guilt. It seems like there are all these rules, and that we can never possibly keep all of them. And so we adopt one of two heresies. We either think that we can’t possibly do it, so none of the rules are really important, as long as you try to be a good person. The second option is that we become so obsessed with the rules that we forget why they were there in the first place. That’s what we see happening in the gospel today. The Pharisees have become so fixated on the law that they forget its purpose.
In the gospel, we have a man born blind. Jesus restores the sight of the man, and is instantly criticized for healing a person on the Sabbath, for violating a point of law. Note what the Pharisees say to the man while questioning him; the Pharisees reviled him therefore and said; You are his disciple, but we are the disciples of Moses. We know that God spoke to Moses; as to this man [Jesus], we know not from whence he is.[3] The Pharisees had forgotten why the law was given to Moses in the first place. The law was given so that we might understand what had gone wrong in our relationship with God. Saint Paul wrote, Shall we say that the law is sin? God forbid! But I did not know sin, but by the law; for I would not have understood concupiscence, if the law did not say; ‘thou shalt not covet.’ [4] Jesus himself said, Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I have come not to destroy but to fulfill. [5] Because what was the purpose of the law in the first place? God told the Lawgiver Moses himself, and now Israel, what does the Lord thy God require of you, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord thy God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I command you this day for your good? [6] The point of the law was to point man into a relationship with God. Moses was so close to God that it is written that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand from the mountain, Moses did not know that his face shone because he had been talking with God.[7] Yet the people of Israel were afraid of this light and did not approach Moses. The only way Moses could talk to them was when he covered his face with a veil.
Now this veil of Moses is a great mystery. Consider what Jesus says to the Pharisees when they asked if they were blind; if you were blind, you should not have sin; but now you say “I see” and so your sin remaineth.[8] For sin blinds us to the light of God, and darkness keeps us from that relationship with God. We fool ourselves into believing that we are doing ok, that we’re good people. Yet in the book of Wisdom, it is written for while the wicked thought to be able to have dominion over the holy nation, they themselves being chained in the bonds of darkness, and a long night, shut up in their houses, lay there exiled from the eternal providence. And while they thought to lie hid in their obscure sins, they were scattered under a dark veil of forgetfulness, being horribly afraid.[9]  But Jesus came to give us back our sight, so that we might behold the very face of God. Jesus came to remove the veil of ignorance, for is not recorded that when Jesus died upon the cross, the veil in the temple was rent asunder?[10] For this reason Paul wrote in our second reading, for you were until now in darkness, but now you are in the light of the Lord. Walk then as children of the light.
So what is pleasing than to God, if it is not to follow the law? How can we follow what Paul commands, prove yourself by what is well pleasing to God? The answer to this is the in the beginning of the chapter, and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God. [11] A couple of weeks ago, we had the gospel reading of the Transfiguration, in which Jesus revealed himself as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.[12] Jesus became for us the new sacrifice. He becomes both priest and sacrifice, both Abraham and Isaac. In the story of Abraham and Isaac, Isaac asks his father where they shall find a sacrifice. The passage is cryptic, for Abraham’s answer is God will provide himself a sacrifice, son. While Abraham thinks it will be his own son, God provides a ram, a lamb so to speak, caught in the thorn bush. Now behold, Christ crucified, the Lamb of God, crowned with thorns.[13] Is this not the lamb through which God saved Abraham from making a sacrifice that man could not fulfill? Jesus is the Lamb of God and He is the priest which offers the sacrifice to the Father.
The priest in the Old Testament used to have to offer sacrifices for his own sins,[14] and then for the people. The Letter to the Hebrews states, every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. [15] We, having joined ourselves to Christ in baptism, are meant to join ourselves to his sacrifice. For this reason, Paul pleaded with the Church in Rome, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that your present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing unto God in your reasonable service.[16] Now how do we do this? How do we offer this sacrifice? We offer this sacrifice, offered once and for all by Christ hung upon the cross, every time we are assembled for the sacrifice of the Mass. If you look at the mass, you see the sacrifice of Christ Jesus offered in full. Consider the following.
In Genesis, it is written that Abel’s sacrifice was more pleasing to God than Cain’s.[17] In the New Testament, it is written that Jesus the mediator of the new testament, and of the sprinkling of blood which speaketh better than that of Abel.[18] In the Eucharistic prayer, we pray “Look with favor on these offerings and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel.”[19] Where Melchizedek offered bread and wine, in the Gospels, Jesus takes bread and wine and tells his apostles, take this all of you and eat, take this all of you and drink, this is my body, this is my blood.[20] In the Mass the priest prays over bread and chalice, “bless and approve our offering; make it acceptable to you, an offering in spirit and in truth. Let it become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord.” In Genesis, it speaks of the Sacrifice of Abraham wherein it is revealed that God will provide himself a victim for a sacrifice, a son.[21] In Hebrews, it is written, if the blood of goats and of oxen…sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God.[22] In the mass the priest prays, “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing.” In Leviticus, it is commanded that those with sin offer of the flock a victim for his sin, to wit, a lamb without blemish. In John’s gospel, John the Baptist proclaims of Jesus, behold the lamb of God, and in Hebrews, it is written, it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens.[23] In the mass, the priest offers the consecrated host as the hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam, a victim undefiled, holy and immaculate. The entire mass is a fulfillment of the promises recorded in the bible.
If you want to know what is pleasing to the Lord, it is a contrite heart, a repentant sinner. We express our contrition every mass when we acknowledge our sins before God and man. We offer ourselves in the offering of the bread and wine, and we join ourselves to the sacrifice of Christ offered once and for all time for the sake of salvation. This sacrifice we call the sacred liturgy continues on in heaven, as it is recorded in the Revelation of Saint John the Divine, where the saints stand around the golden altar,[24]  singing Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God Almighty,[25] where the incense of their prayers[26] surrounds the lamb who was slain.[27]
 The sacrifice of the mass gives light to our eyes, and prepares us to see God as He is in heaven. “The Lord gives light to the blind. Therefore we, brethren, having the eye-salve of faith, are now enlightened. For His spit did before mingle with the earth, by which the eyes of him who was born blind were anointed. We too, have been born blind of Adam, and have need of Him to enlighten us. He mixed spit with clay; the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.[28] He mixed spit with earth; hence it was predicted, truth has sprung from the earth;” and He said Himself, I am the way, the truth, and the life.[29] When we shall see face to face, we shall have the full fruition of the truth; for this also is promised us. For who would dare hope for what God had not deigned either to promise or to give. We shall see face to face. The apostle says, Now I know in part, now through a mirror darkly lit; but then, face to face.[30] And the Apostle John says in his epistle; Beloved, now we are the sons of God; and it has not yet appeared what we shall be; we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.[31] [32]

[1] “Concerning that which is pleasing to God.” [Taken from Ephesians 5.10, from the second reading]
[2] Ephesians 5.8-10
[3] John 9.28-29
[4] Romans 7.8
[5] Matthew 5.17
[6] Deuteronomy 10.12-13
[7] Exodus 34.29-30
[8] John 9.41
[9] Wisdom 17.2-3
[10] Cf. Matthew 27.51; Mark 15.38; Luke 23.45
[11] Ephesians 5.2
[12] Cf. Matthew 5.17
[13] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, God is Near Us. Ignatius Press. 2001, p. 46
[14] Cf. Leviticus 4.26, 35
[15] Hebrews 10.11-14
[16] Romans 12.1
[17] Genesis 4.4
[18] Hebrews 12.24
[19] Supra quae propito ac sereno vultu respicere digneris: et accept habere sicuti accepta habere dignatus es munera pueri tui iusti Abel…
[20] Cf. Matthew 26.26-27; Mark 14.22; Luke 22.19-20
[21] Cf. Genesis 22.8
[22] Hebrews 9.13-14
[23] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. God is With Us, p. 42: “It is clear in his [John's] gospel that Jesus died at exactly the same time when the paschal lambs were being sacrificed in the Temple for the feast of the Passover.” For more on the correctness of the Johannine chronology, see R. Pesch, Das Markusevagenlium, vol. II (Freiburg, 1977), pp 323-328
[24] Revelation 8.3
[25] Revelation 4.8 and Isaiah 6.3
[26] Revelation 8.4
[27] Revelation 5.6,12 and 13.8
[28] John 1.14
[29] John 14.6
[30] I Corinthians 13.12
[31] I John 3.2
[32] Saint Augustine. “Tractate 34 (John 8.12)” Tractates on the Gospel of John, §9

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