Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Passion Sunday—22 March AD 2015

אהיה אשר אהיה

[Ordinary of the Mass]
[Mass Text - Latin]
[Mass Text - English]
[Lenten Observance]

“I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am.[1]

    And “they took up stones therefore to cast at him: but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.”[2]  Interesting how a tiny bit of grammar would cause people to want to kill someone.  The Jews—probably the Pharisees—picked up stones with which to kill Jesus because in speaking about Himself before the time of Abraham, He said:  “I am.”  They knew that by saying this He was claiming to be truly God—and, from their limited perspective, this was blasphemy and deserved the death penalty—they intended to stone Him to death.

    They believed that they were right in doing this because in the Book of Exodus, God sent Moses to the Children of Israel, saying:  “I AM WHO AM. He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS, hath sent me to you.”[3]

    If this sounds like bad grammar, philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas would explain that “God is the unique being whose essence is existence.”  That is to say that God’s very nature is to exist;  that His existence is without any limitation of space or time;  He exists everywhere;  He exists in an eternal “now” without the limitations of “past” or “future.”  When God speaks of Himself, it is most proper to speak in the present tense: “I AM.”

    The scholastic philosophers will also tell us that this pure existence of God is what they call “transcendental.”  Unity, Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Existence are all intimately related—and they have their highest exemplar in God.  A musician friend of mine includes “harmony.”  Let me give you a few more easier to understand examples.  It is easier to understand the trivial than the sublime. 

·                     A man looking at a very well made automobile sees it as a beautiful thing because the working parts are all true to their exact purposes and specifications, and therefore work in unity (or harmony).  Such a car is a good car indeed.

·                     Another man is attracted to a beautiful woman.  In her he sees vibrant life and good health—her movements are harmonious and true to God’s design for human beings.  He perceives her to compliment his own masculinity in a way that will join them in the unity of a family.

·                     A piece of art or music is beautiful because it harmoniously unites its subjects, casting a true representation of them in paint or in sound.  “Dissonance” is not Godly, as my musician friend says.

    My trivial examples, of course, pale in comparison with God.  He is simultaneously Unity, Harmony, Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Existence —all in infinite perfection.  It is out of this infinite perfection that He created us, allowing us a finite share of His infinite Existence.  It is out of this infinite perfection that He redeemed us.

    In today’s Epistle, Saint Paul describes that redemption.[4]  We know that Adam and Eve sinned against God, and had nothing to offer Him that might make up for their transgression.  We see in the Old Testament that God was only moderately pleased with the gifts His people offered in sacrifice—their first fruits, and the first born of their flocks were only partially acceptable to God—and probably because they represented a conversion of heart, rather than having any true value to Him in themselves.

    But Jesus Christ, God the Son of God, possessed that same infinite perfection as the Father.  As the Word of God He was the exemplar of Unity, Harmony, Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Existence.  No longer would the Father be asked to accept the puny sacrifices of men and women:  “For if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of an heifer being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled, to the cleansing of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who … offered Himself unspotted unto God…?”[5]  Because of the Holy Sacrifice of the Cross, mankind now has a worthy offering to God—both for the sin of Adam and Eve, and for our own sins.

    As we get closer to Easter, the Scripture readings will describe the intimate relationship between the Last Supper (the first Holy Mass) and the Sacrifice of the Cross.  We will also read about our Lord instituting the Sacrament of Penance, so that the Holy Sacrifice could be applied for individual souls who repent of their sins and present them before the priests in Sacramental Confession.

    Coincidentally, just a day or two I read an essay by Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologna, Italy[6].  He made the very remarkable point that moral theology was not so much about doing the will of God as it is about truth—one of our transcendentals again.  The Cardinal’s point was that human beings are created by God, and in the physical realm of things they are endowed with specific abilities which enable them to live a life pleasing to God and ultimately to be rewarded with eternal salvation.  Sin is essentially taking those God given abilities and living a lie with them; perverting them to false purposes for which they are not intended.  The Cardinal was writing about marriage, but the idea is applicable to all human moral behavior.  To live in virtue is to live in truth—to live according to the way God designed us.  It is something like that beautiful automobile I described before—we lose our beauty in God’s eyes if we don't work in harmony with his design for us.

    Confession then is like a diagnostic and a tune up for that car.  We must admit where we have been untruthful to God's design, and sincerely desire to make the appropriate adjustments.  We must sincerely recognize our untrue behavior and fully intend to correct it in the future.  Once again, Unity, Harmony, Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Existence are all part of the process because we are creatures of the transcendent God.

    My custom is not to preach on Palm Sunday, for we read the Passion Gospel of Saint Matthew in its entirety, and it is a bit longer than most days.  I do invite you, however, to pay close attention to this connection between the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.  It is often minimized in today’s world, and needs to be remembered by all faithful Catholics.

    Without the Crucifixion, the Last Supper and the Mass would be meaningless.  Without the Mass, the Crucifixion and the Last Supper would have been over and done with two thousand years ago and thousands of miles away.  But our God is transcendental, as He tells us today:

“I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am.


[1]   Gospel:  John viii: 46-59

[6]   Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, “Sacramental Ontology and the Indissolubility of Marriage,” page 176 in Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, Robert Dodaro, O.S.A., editor (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014).










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