Wednesday January 15, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 2:14-18) Gospel (St. Mark 1:29-39)
Saint Paul, in the first reading today, tells us that Jesus had to take on flesh and blood in order that He would be able to destroy the one who through death had brought fear into the hearts of the people. As the Book of Wisdom tells us, and as we see very clearly in the Book of Genesis, death came through the devil. The Book of Wisdom tells us it was through the envy of the devil because he had rejected God and, therefore, he wanted to take down as many as he could. He did not like the idea that we would be able to have eternal life and he could not (that is, eternal life with God), and so he wanted as many as he could take down with him. That is why he came into the garden to tempt Adam and Eve and to destroy all of those who would be their children and the descendants after them.
But Jesus, the New Adam, took on our flesh and blood. Saint Paul, again, tells us that He did not come to help the angels but rather He came to help us, human creatures of flesh and blood. He took on our nature with our flesh and blood, and He took that to the Cross. He was tempted in the flesh out in the desert and He died in the flesh on the Cross. Therefore, Saint Paul says He is able to be a faithful and merciful high priest because of what He has suffered.
So when we look, first, at our own sufferings, it tells us something about the dignity of suffering. If we unite ourselves with the Lord, we have to remember that our suffering becomes His suffering; the means by which He continues His saving work in the world today is by suffering through His Mystical Body. And so the dignity we have of being members of Christ and sharing in His priesthood is in part that our suffering can be offered so that others can be converted and their souls can be saved.
At the same time, we also see the mercy of God: that He was always there and He was always merciful. Obviously, God does not change and so the mercy of God has always been present. He took on our human nature to show us the depth of His love so that we could understand how much we meant to Him and what He was willing to do for us weak, sinful creatures who are nothing by comparison to God and yet at the same time in God’s eyes so dignified that He would take on our human nature and He would die for us because He loves us so much. We need to look very carefully at that because if we are good enough for God, then we need to make sure we are living our lives in that same kind of manner to say, “What does this require of me if this is what God is willing to do for me? What is my response to Jesus, considering what He has already done?” That is what we need to look at.
He came in the flesh to rob the devil of his power. And in robbing the devil of his power, he takes away fear. Saint John, in his first letter, tells us that fear has to do with judgment; it is a fear of death and a fear of being condemned. But in Christ, if we are living our lives the way that we should, Saint John tells us that perfect love casts out all fear. Look at the Cross – there is perfect love. If we can unite ourselves with Jesus in His death and Resurrection, if we can rid ourselves of all the selfishness and concupiscence, then we too can achieve perfect love. Then not only is the devil robbed of death, but the power that he had is given unto us and we will trounce his ugly head because there will be no fear since we are united with Jesus; and we will have confidence, as Saint John says, on the Day of Judgment.
That is what is being offered to us because of the mercy of God in becoming one of us and then His mercy uniting us to Himself in Baptism and calling us now to unite ourselves with Him in love and in suffering, to unite ourselves with Him through the bonds of grace, to rid ourselves of everything which is not Christ, and to perfect that love so that the devil will have no power over us. We will know completely the freedom which God gives to us: the freedom to love Him with our whole heart and soul and strength. That is the glory to which He is calling us. That is what the High Priesthood of Jesus is about: It is offering His sacrifice so that we could be freed from sin and that we could love Him as He created us to do.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.