“God is Love”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance--Lent brgins this Wednesday!
St. Paul's epistle on charity is so
beautiful—so uncharacteristic of his usual style, that there is a temptation
to preach about it every year, and ignore the Gospel of this Sunday. I'll
resist the temptation, but mention to you that you can go back and read it
for yourself sometime in the near future. Its from First Corinthians 13.
It is important to note, however,
that the sentiment of this epistle is extremely important for a good Lent.
As St. Paul uses it, the word “charity” means “love,” and specifically the
love of God. And we should be aware that whatever we do to observe Lent, it
must be done for the love of God—otherwise it is useless.
But the Gospel is an important one
to understand, as well. It is set at a time just before our Lord made his
last trip to Jerusalem with the Apostles. They have been with him for a few
years, but yet they don't fully understand the events that will have to play
out in the near future.
For the religious Jew, the annual
pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem was an necessity. If at all
possible, he made the trip at the time of the Passover, or perhaps for Yom
Kippur, the day of Atonement.
To understand the Gospel, we need to
know a little about the Old Testament. These two days were what we call
“types,” or foreshadowings of the action of our Lord on the cross. At the
Passover, a lamb was sacrificed, and its blood smeared over the doorposts to
keep the angel of death from the homes of the Israelites—a foreshadowing of
the Lamb of God.
On the day of atonement, the priests
of the Temple would place their hands on the head of a goat—known as the
“scapegoat” or “emissary goat” —this symbolized that the priest was
transferring the sins of the people to the goat—the goat—and then the goat
was driven out into the desert to die. Just as our Lord took our sins upon
Himself, and died for our sins.
The religious Jew was also quite
aware of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac if God had willed
it—a type of God the Father's willingness to sacrifice His only begotten
Son. On the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, they might recall the event in the
desert when the Israelites were being bitten by vipers, and God had Moses
produce a bronze serpent and raise it up on a stick—something like a
crucifix—and those who looked upon it were healed of their snakebites.
As they walked on their journey,
they probably sang some of the Psalms—the musical poetry of the Jews—which
prophesied the betrayal, the false witnesses, the scourging and the
crucifixion of our Lord.
And now, Jesus and the Apostles were
making this centuries old journey themselves—for the last time. Our Lord
was keenly aware that He was the one that they were singing about in the
Psalms, and that He was the one foreshadowed in those old stories.
Perhaps as God these events held no
particular terror—but certainly as man—and our Lord was truly a man—there
was a terrifying dimension in making that trip—step by step approaching an
absolutely certain, and certainly painful death. Yet he persisted. He
continued on to Jerusalem, calmly continuing His normal routine of teaching
and healing the sick.
Even though He knew that He was to
be “mocked, and scourged, and spit upon . . . and put to death” —He went
willingly—offering Himself just as Abraham offered Isaac—taking the sins of
others upon Himself, just as the emissary goat—shedding His Blood for the
deliverance of His people, just like he Passover Lamb of God. Just like the
bronze serpent, He would be lifted up to cure the ills of a world made sick
The Church offers us this picture of
our Lord's sufferings to prepare us for Lent. If we are to do everything
for the love of God, we should be keenly aware that God loved us—loved us
enough to die for us—the painful death of the cross.
It asks us to be aware that our
Lord's death—indeed all of His pains and sufferings—are the result of our
sins. Guilt is a powerful thing. And it can be a good thing—we should feel
remorse over the painful death we have caused our Lord to endure.
Just as He willingly made the
pilgrimage to suffer and die, we should view Lent as a pilgrimage—a
pilgrimage of penance, and prayer, and good works to take some of the sting
out of our Lord's suffering—above all, a pilgrimage of to take some of the
sting out of our Lord's suffering—above all, a pilgrimage of charity, so
that by loving God on this earth, we may love Him in eternity.
M. Disdero, From a stele on Mount Nebo. 19/02/2007 "ό θεòς
(ho theos agape estin).
God is love." 1 John iv: 16.