Saturday, 4 February 2017

Week 4 Saturday (Year 1)

Readings: Hebrews 13:15-17, 20-21; Psalm 22; Mark 6:30-34


We have been reading the Letter to the Hebrews, a text of extraordinary richness. One of its main themes is the 'once for all - ness' of the sacrifice of Christ. In place of the sin-offerings of the temple, offered each day, for the priest himself as well as for others, not guaranteed to be effective, there is the sacrifice Jesus offered once, for all, as the perfect high priest, able to sympathise with sinners in their weakness although he is himself without sin, a sacrifice that achieves the eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying.

I once heard Thomas Torrance, a distinguished Protestant theologian, rejecting attacks on Catholic teaching and practice from fellow Presbyterians. He knew, and he told them, that the best modern theology in defence of the uniqueness of the sacrifice of Christ, its 'inalienability', is from Catholic theologians.

And yet in the liturgy and in spirituality we continue to speak of ourselves offering sacrifices: the sacrifice of praise offered each day in the Liturgy of the Hours, for example, the sacrifice of good works, thanksgiving, charity, penance, offer it up, works of reparation, the Mass itself as a sacrifice: so many activities and virtues of the Christian life are thought of as 'sacrificial'. Saint Augustine writes about sacrifice in his work On the City of God. There he says that anything can be a sacrifice, any act designed to unite us to God and any human work done for the sake of God. Of course we offer all these sacrifices, as we offer all our prayers, through Christ our Lord and in union with him. There is no true sacrifice apart from his sacrifice just as there is no true prayer apart from his prayer.

The section of Hebrews we read today speaks about this. The sacrifice of praise means referring everything to God, continually, at all times and in all places. It is to be unending, our only obsession. There is also a sacrifice of obedience implied in what the author says about leaders in the community: defer to them as they carry a responsibility before God for you.

Leaders speak as we see from the gospel reading. They come up with words. The apostles reported all they had done and taught. Jesus' compassion moves him to teach the people at length, to give them knowledge, meaning, wisdom, words. The sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving requires words. But sometimes we are lost for words because our experiences are profound and we are in awe or afraid or overcome. When lost for words with which to offer our praise and thanksgiving we turn to leaders, teachers, pastors, healers - they provide us with words.

According to the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is the 'pioneer and perfecter' of our faith, the Leader and Teacher, the Pastor and Healer, the Word who continues to generate words in us so that we can express our desire for Him and give voice to our praise of His glory.

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