Monday, January 17, 2011

Homily 2nd Sun O.T. Year A: The Lamb of God

Last Sunday, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord was the official beginning of the Season that we are now in: Ordinary Time. It had a special focus on Jesus' Baptism and its meaning for our lives. This Sunday continues that theme but there is no special Feast Day; it is just a quote/unquote "normal Sunday." But, what is special about this Sunday and the other Sundays of Ordinary Time, is that rather than focusing on a particular aspect of the life of Jesus or the saints, the focus is now on those day-to-day duties and responsibilities of a faithful Catholic. These include remembering that every Sunday is a Holy Day of Obligation (not just the Immaculate Conception, Christmas, Easter Sunday, etc.). Ordinary Time also reminds us to return to normal routines of prayer that can be disturbed by the busy-ness of the holidays, to renew those small acts of penance that make up the penitential lifestyle of the Catholic, and to examine our conscience regularly to see how prepared we are to receive Holy Communion. These are not extraordinary acts, these are and should be the common, ordinary, practices of every mainstream Catholic. What is beautiful about Ordinary Time, is that it reminds us that through Ordinary things, Extraordinary things can happen.

For us, "Ordinary" does not have to mean "mundane," but we often get the two confused. How many times, for example, have you heard Father say as he holds the consecrated Host over the chalice, "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper"? Every Sunday you've heard it, maybe even every day. Many of you have heard this thousands of times throughout your life. Sometimes we can forget what it really means. But this phrase should never become mundane to us. It is an ordinary expression that has an extraordinary meaning.

This phrase, said at every Mass, actually comes from the Gospel reading that you heard today: "John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.'" In the same way, we who are united in the Body of Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism and strengthened in the Eucharist are called to point others to Jesus, just like John the Baptist did, through our words and actions. [1]

The second part of this prayer reflects the words of the Book of Revelation, where God revealed to St. John what the Mass in heaven will look like: "Then the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who have been called to the wedding feast of the Lamb'" (Rev 19:9). In this prayer, we are not rejoicing that we may receive the Eucharist. Instead, we rejoice for those who have been found worthy to share in the heavenly Liturgy, the supper of the Lamb, and we pray that one day, we may join them in the everlasting life of the Kingdom of God. [2]

So, a better translation of this prayer of the Mass, one more clearly linked to Scripture is: "Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb." From this we see that the Scriptures in the Mass do not end after the Gospel and the Homily. The entire Mass is filled with Scripture. We Catholics know Scripture better than we might think! When we hear this prayer, we should think of ourselves as John the Baptist. And we should call to mind those who are enjoying the Mass in heaven with the saints. God is calling all of us to be saints, every single one of us, and he has given us the Mass, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, to help us on that journey.

Now, I know all of that sounded a bit academic. But I like to do a little bit of teaching about the Mass whenever the opportunity comes because I think whenever we can understand more deeply what the Mass means and what it means for our lives, then we can receive more fully this wonderful gift. If we are calling Jesus the "Lamb of God" during our Mass, if John the Baptist called Him the "Lamb of God" as he walked on earth, and if the Book of Revelation calls him, as he reigns in heaven, the "Lamb of God" 28 times in the span of 22 chapters, then what does that tell us about the Mass!? It tells us that we are participating in something that is literally heaven on earth. It shows us that everlasting life in heaven is possible and that this earth is not all that we live for. For something that happens so ordinarily, this is quite extraordinary! [3]

This phrase, "Behold the Lamb of God," is also a challenge to us today. It is a challenge because the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, takes away the sins of the world. How does he take away your sins or mine? He certainly doesn't force Himself on us. We have to accept this for ourselves. The way that we do this is by receiving Communion but also by going to the sacrament of Reconciliation. In the Mass, the victory of the Lamb of God over sin is realized for our own time and place. In Confession, the Lamb of God takes away and forgives the sins of my own world, my life, through the absolution of the priest.

A great way to think about all of this is with the image of a family. The Catholic Church is "nothing other than the family of God." Through Baptism we enter God's family. Through Confirmation we are "firmed up" to reach Christian maturity within the family. At the altar of the Eucharist, which is like the family meal, we are nourished by the food of Jesus' Body and Blood. And just like at home when a sick child is tended to, through the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick God heals our body and soul. Through Ordination God raises up fathers for His earthly family, the Church. In Holy Matrimony, new Christian homes are made, which tradition calls "domestic churches." But, whenever we have wounded or cut off our family life, the sacrament of Reconciliation, by our confession and receiving forgiveness, restores us to normal family life. [4]

Going to confession is an ordinary practice for good Catholic families who desire to strengthen their family and to grow in holiness. This should be as common as all of the other "ordinary" practices, so to speak, of Ordinary Time. Saints and popes have consistently encouraged us to go to Confession eat least on a monthly basis. When we hear at Mass, "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" we should let that phrase be our reminder. When I hear that phrase I think about how he has taken away the sins of my own world and when the last time was that I let him into my world. After all, he was a friend to tax collectors and sinners and he ate with them. He forgave the woman caught in adultery with the simple words "Go and do not sin again". In the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee he taught us to pray "God be merciful to me a sinner!" And in the parable of the prodigal son he shows us that we too are sons of a Father and have gone astray and so our Father humbles himself, comes to us, and gives us what we need to come home to stay. Can we ever lose hope of being forgiven when it is Christ who forgives? Can we ever lose hope of receiving the graces we need to be saints when it is Christ who can give them to us? The assurance fills us with great peace and joy. [5]

In this current season, let's call to mind again that there is nothing ordinary about Ordinary Time. Let us use this time to focus on the extraordinary graces offered to us. Thank God that through the Mass and Reconciliation, by the power of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, graces as extraordinary as forgiveness and the very divine life of God are made ordinary parts of our lives.

[1] USCCB, Parish Guide to Implementing the Roman Missal Third Edition, Appendix D Bulletin Inserts, “Scripture and the Mass,” back
[2] Ibid.
[3] Scott Hahn, The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth, p. 9
[4] Scott Hahn, Swear to God: The Promise and Power of the Sacraments, p. 42, 43, 45, 47, 48, 51, 52, 54 for the short family connections of each sacrament.
[5] Francis Fernandez, In Conversation with God, Vol. 3, p. 42-43 for the forgiveness episodes.

1 comment:

Padre Paulus said...

Ahh, he's still a seminarian: footnoting his homilies. I'd almost forgotten those days...