Lenten Parish Reconciliation Service (29 Mar 2010)
Hb 4. 14-16; 5. 7-9; Jn 13. 1, 31-35
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Personally, Lovingly With Us
As we embark this week on our annual threefold celebration of the last supper of Jesus; his passion and death; and his resurrection: I thought reflecting together on his unique role as our great high priest might deepen our celebration.
The preacher of what we call the Letter to the Hebrews was taken with Jesus’ priestly work. The preacher kept building up to Jesus’ great high priesthood before the preacher developed it. The preacher has been likened to a composer, who sounds a musical theme several times before letting all the instruments color it together.1
We just heard the preacher’s third run-up about Jesus’ priestly ministry. Jesus differed from all other humans because he did not sin. While that set Jesus apart from us, it also joined Jesus to us: we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. Having been tested in every way we and all humans are tested meant Jesus was no droid, puppet or figurehead. His lifelong testing completed his identification with every human. Perhaps those of us who saw Tetélestai came away feeling Jesus’ humanity more strongly.
Jesus’ lifelong testing described how he sought to be faithful to the mission on which he was sent: to become like his brothers [and sisters] in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to atone for the sins of the people.2 “On behalf of others” described priestly work, before Jesus and after him. We Catholics see that in both ordained priesthood and the priesthood all of us share by being baptized into Jesus and each other.
You and I work out our response to our baptismal priesthood in individual ways. We work out our response through our personal vocations and our daily living. At times we work out our response evenly; at other times unevenly; we know other times when we don’t do justice to our baptisms in Jesus. In all times Jesus accompanies us rejoicing over us with encouragement, which may register as feeling right when we respond to our baptismal priesthood well; prompting us to try again when we haven’t put our hearts into our mission; and blessing us in our shortcomings with a desire to try again and to try more faithfully.
More faithfully opens on another conviction about our great hight priest: Jesus learn[ed] obedience through what he suffered. That conviction often doesn’t help us, let alone speak to us modern folk, especially because we have an aversion to suffering. Humans always have; but for us who can alleviate so much suffering, our ability lulls us into thinking we can always get around it--until of course, we cannot. The ancients knew suffering was change, and change was part of life. We sophisticated people resist change strongly, not only outside us but change in ourselves. We are all affected by things, by people, by events and by God’s life. When we pause to reflect on what it may mean to me or for me that a thing, a person, an event or a grace of God affects me, we begin learning what is most real and most important: we learn ourselves and our relationship with others, with God and with our world. That is the learning Jesus faithfully lived. It is our learning to which Jesus pledges himself, sympathiz[ing] with our weaknesses and exulting with our efforts to be faithful.
This learning is no easy thing. It certainly is no aptitude, which comes more readily to some and not to others. It is a lifelong venture for which each of us takes responsibility. Our responsibility does not mean we travel through life alone and unaided. Jesus graces us at each moment. Grace means sympathy is not pity but Jesus personally, lovingly sharing our feelings and our questions, feelings and questions Jesus knew intimately.
Jesus graces us so that like him we pray not escape our humanity or the challenges which confront us, but to be delivered through them.3 This brings us back again to priesthood. “On behalf of others” has always described priestly work. Perhaps a thread running through many of our sinful attitudes, actions and inactions, is we rely on ourselves as if everything counted on us. That smacks of pride, the root of the sin that colors all scripture, defying God. Our great high priest Jesus faithfully, loyally gives us himself and a share in his Spirit so we might be less centered on ourselves and freer to welcome others into the venture we name our daily lives. This, after all, is the mission Jesus gave his disciples with whom he walked and which he give us: “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day [to become our great high priest] and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.4
You and I will witness them anew in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through it we become more faithful and more eloquent witnesses as we prepare to embrace our annual threefold celebration of the last supper of Jesus; his suffering and death; and his resurrection and be his Easter people with greater grace and vigor.
- Reginald Fuller, Preaching the New Lectionary, Collegeville, MN, The Liturgical Press, p.19.
- Hebrews 2.17.
- See Hebrews 5.7.
- Luke 24. 46-48.
Wiki-image by Siren-Com of the Arrest of Jesus is used according to the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Jesus enacted his commandment to his disciples by washing their feet, a wiki-image in the public domain.