Sacred Heart

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Imlay City, Michigan  Tel: (810) 724-1135

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Homily
Fr. Paul Ward

 

Good Friday, April 14, 2017

 

 

The Last Words of Christ: “It is accomplished” (Jn 19:30)

 

   St. John has just described to us the passion and death of our Lord. We know the story does not end there: there is resurrection, there is the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, there are the sacraments and saints of twenty centuries to fill us with admiration and inspiration. But today we need to stop and focus just on these important hours in the life of the God Man Jesus Christ, our Loving and Merciful Savior.

   Every year I have preached, on Good Friday, on one of the last words of Jesus. There were seven – not seven individual terms, but seven sentences, each one a logos, a word, a concept composed of a few words. This year we shall examine that one in which Christ says, first in Latin, “Consummatum est!”, then in Greek just one word, “tet
élestai”; and in English we read, “It is finished.” What does that mean? This shall be our meditation.

   We must explore some linguistics and philosophy to get our minds around this word, and so at first these words may come across as something very abstract and distant; but by the end of our meditation today, we will all agree that these words evoke something deeply personal within us, perhaps in some cases even heartbreaking.

   Most English translations will provide something like, “It is finished.” Wycliffe, the ancient heretic, has the worst of translations, “It is ended.” The Douay Rheims may have the best, “It is consummated,” but as such is an expression used only with extreme rarity at any point in the history of the English language, a mere Latinism that is adopted more than a word that is translated.

   The core of the word indicates “finality.” Finality is expressed in the Greek – St. John wrote this Gospel originally in ancient Greek – by the word “telos.” Today we speak, for example, of “teleology,” or the study of finalities, or of intentions of people. When Christ spoke, then, he used a word, one word, a Greek in the past perfect tense, and the verb is teléo. So how do you make a verb out of the noun “finality” in English. You can’t really.

   But other expressions might get our mind to where it needs to go, now that we know this. When the Lord said
tetélestai, we could translate or express it in other ways: it has been accomplished, the end has been achieved, the goal has been fulfilled, and if it were a foot race he might say that he crossed the finish line. St. Paul will in fact use this very same verb to speak about crossing the finish line, where he writes to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).

   What our dear Lord is not saying is simply, “It is done, it’s over, the pain has come to a stop, my life is ceasing.” By saying, “It is finished,” he is not expressing the end of a continuum, but the reaching of a goal.

   To further help us understand the Lord’s words here, we can back up just two verses. Let us read what we find there: “After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), ‘I thirst.’ A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, ‘It is finished’; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Jn 19:28-30). While we could say much about the “I thirst” and the vinegar and so on, we’ll have to leave that for future Good Fridays and keep our focus. But you may have noticed that the word “was finished” is repeated twice. And if you look at the Greek original, you’ll find the exact same word in both verses (v. 28,30). In the first case we read, “All things were finished/fulfilled, so that the scriptures would be fulfilled,” and then Christ says, “It is finished” (
tetélestai in both cases).

   So, what exactly has been achieved? Which race was run with which finish line? What finality was attained? What goal was fulfilled? Here we have a problem, because Jesus isn’t done. For example, he has yet to rise from the dead, as the old testament prophecies foretold; and he has to send the Spirit, as other scriptural prophecies state. So these things of the scriptures are not yet fulfilled. So one cannot take these words to mean that everything about the Messiah had been, at that point in time, completely fulfilled in every way.

   We may carefully notice that what was completed now in the life of Christ was the list, so to speak, of tasks done and teachings taught as commanded to him by his father, but also his suffering, his passion. We may therefore conclude that, whatever it was his life, suffering and death accomplished, that is the thing of which Christ speaks in his mighty last word. And this thing that was accomplished did not of itself need the resurrection and later mysteries like the Ascension and Pentecost and beyond.

   Or again, St. Paul in Phil 2:7-8 writes, “but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (These words we heard sung beautifully before the Gospel.) It is to these mysteries that the “It is finished” apply, and not to the glorification which will come afterwards (cf. Phil 9-11).

   Yet again, to help us focus our question, it is as if we were not asking, “Why did God become man?”, nor “What did his life, teachings and miracles accomplish?”, nor “What did his suffering, death and resurrection accomplish?”, but simply, “What did his suffering and death, as foretold in the prophets, accomplish?”

   For many things were given to us by our Lord: there is salvation by which we are saved, justification by which we are made just and holy before the Father, there is grace by which the Trinity dwells in the baptized, and so on. And perhaps in our minds we muddle all these ideas together, but they’re not really the same thing. All related, each different term captures and expresses different aspects.

   I would therefore conclude that he was asserting that the atonement itself was finished. Atonement is that satisfaction for sin which Christ accomplished for us. We did evil by our sins, and an injustice was incurred; a correction was necessary for justice to be restored, and we often use the image of a price to be paid for the wickedness we perpetrated. Christ went through false accusations, humiliations, spittle, beatings, lacerations, perforations with thorns and nails, ridicule, slander and every horrible thing the rest of us never want to experience – and he did it for us, filling up the payment of the full debt of the sin of the world – it is finished. This is what he came to do, and he accomplished it. More good will come, starting with Christ’s descent to the limbo of the holy patriarchs on Holy Saturday to preach to them the Gospel and open the gates of heaven to them; Easter Sunday and the days thereafter would bring rejoicing upon blessing and gift upon grace.

   So far, then, we have been studying Jesus. But what about ourselves? Have you ever asked yourself, “What is my telos, what is my purpose, what is the reason for my existence?” Few do, and some that do answer with superficial things like, “To be a good friend, to help others, to be nice to others, to be a good mom, to be a loving husband, to make the world a better place…” These answer are all nice platitudes, and might have some drop of truth in them seen in some light, but none of these things really hit the mark. They may be goals, like lower-tier finalities that help us reach the goal or telos¸ but are not that goal. Our goal is to know, love and serve God in this life, and to be with him forever in heaven. Everything else, I mean everything, takes second place to that great project. Ah, but how easily we forget about our great goal, and get distracted with passing things.

   I would guess that most men in our times never think about their goal, the real goal of every living person, that is, to know, love, and serve God and get to heaven. And today you may feel confronted, even threatened by this. If you were to die right this moment and be judged, could you tell God, “It is accomplished; I did that for which you created me”? I hope no one is so foolish as to say, “Oh yeah, I’m all over it, I’m a perfect saint in every way and have no room for improvement.” A more honest and humble examination, I feel quite sure, will have us all beating our breasts for being so selfish, so distracted, so greedy, so sensual and so proud that we daily fail to pursue that goal. Sin is a failure to achieve the reason for our existence.

   But while humility is good, despair is not. While we grow in the distrust of ourselves, we should grow also in trusting God’s mercy. For what more evidence can we have of God’s love on the cross, than his suffering and death for us? Let us accompany now Mary, Mother of Sorrows, and console Jesus Christ crucified with the love of our hearts and the sincere resolve to battle sin in our own lives. Amen.


 

 

 

Sat. & Sun., Apr 15 & 16, 2017
Easter

 

 

   Finally we celebrate the feast of Easter, when Jesus Christ, God and Man, son of Mary, rose from the dead. He lives even now in his flesh at the right hand of the Father, and the whole Church praises God with Gloria and Alleluia.

   We prepared ourselves with ashes and the confession of our sins. We have participated in the mini-retreats and other devotions, public and private. The labor has intensified for the catechists, the students, the Trailblazers, the choir, the altar boys, and now our souls are well disposed for the most important day in the liturgical year: Easter of the Resurrection!

   [Tonight’s Mass began with a fire outside, an old tradition, symbolic of creation, when the Father spoke and said, “Let there be light.” Every year we get a break in the weather, it seems, for which we are grateful to God, to duly celebrate that liturgical rite. I asked the altar boys, at their grueling rehearsals, “Please pray for good weather for the Easter Vigil, so we may begin outdoors with the fire.” The result was an 80oF day. The lesson we may take from this is that, if anyone needs a miracle, he now knows who to ask! The procession, the singing of the Exultet, the special readings which highlight some of the most salient points and doctrines of the history of salvation… all these things point not only to the resurrection of the Lord, but also to the sacrament of baptism. St. Paul will say we were buried with Christ, and in baptism we have been resurrected.]

   This night we have two fine young women who have been preparing themselves all year to receive the gift of baptism. Rachel and Mindy, there are a good number of persons in this room, men and women, who were where you now are; adults who pursued the Catholic Faith, not having received it from their parents in their infancy. I, and they, and all present are filled with joy to see the great work God is doing in your souls, and are edified by your generous answer to the Lord, believing in him and the whole Christian life he wills for his followers. Today is a beginning for you, but not an end, and much spiritual growth lies ahead. The devil, the flesh and the world will lay temptations before you all your life long, but God’s grace will grow within you, imperceptibly, as a tree grows. Therefore, you will be stronger and stronger in time, more informed in your intellects, more resolute in you wills, and God’s mercy will accompany you until your last hour in this life.

   Easter has this quality of reminding us of our baptism, what it is, what it did to us, what the obligations of baptism are, and that we should live like re-created people. And seeing you, Mindy and Rachel, with the children, approach the baptismal font, reminds us of all these things.

   By baptism, a person is re-created. Created by nature with body and soul, and this too was done by God himself, now in baptism a person is reborn. It is not that he has a new body and a new soul, but he has a new life in his body and soul. This life is not simply the mortal life doomed to death, but a life of grace, and infusion of the Trinity, the will of the Father, the deed of the Son, and the working of the Holy Spirit. The baptized person who walks the face of the earth is not the same as the unbaptized person who walks next to him. The Christian has grace, the other does not; the Christian has the Trinity living inside, the other does not; the Christian expects to see the face of God in heaven for all eternity, the other knows nothing of this nor does he have this hope; the Christian is, in his soul, a priest, a prophet and king, while the other simply lacks these qualities; the Christian lives in faith, hope and charity, while the other has none of these virtues, except maybe, on their best day, the natural equivalents of these supernatural virtues. The Christian enjoys the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit, the other is lacking in these things. The Christian drinks deeply from the well of the mercy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, while the other simply suffers in guilt, shame and sin. The Christian has a divinely appointed mother in heaven, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, whose tender affection smothers him from moment to moment; the other knows of no heavenly mother, and feels like an orphan. One cannot exaggerate in stressing the difference between the baptized and the non-baptized, even though on the exterior they may look the same. (They really don’t look the same; the devout Christian is always more cheerful!) Ah, what a gift baptism is; an in receiving it, Christ gives one everything, and takes nothing away, except the nothingness of sin.

   Baptism, however, is a two-way street. One receives, but one also is called to give. Not forced, invited to give of himself or herself back to God in the most radical way. This is done by a life of grace, the living of the theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), and of all the virtues as best as one can, and of a life of penance and prayer. Do that, and you’ll become a great saint - the path is simple and clear.

   For this reason, we profess certain renunciations and certain acts of faith before we are baptized. The Church asks us, and we respond, we do not ask ourselves: “Do you reject Satan, and his works, and his deeds?” So that is the first half of how we live out our baptism, and it is “negative,” in the sense that we reject certain things. The second half is “positive,” in that we promise certain things: “Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and in all the things he wills for us, such as the Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the resurrection and eternal life?” Today we ask first the Elect, and later we’ll ask the questions again to the whole Congregation, each to answer in their own time. What will be your answer?

   Predictably we all expect to say and hear, “I do, I reject, I believe.” And I have no doubt we all say our responses sincerely and we mean it. But the Mass will end, and we’ll all go home. And then there’s our employment, there’s the house, there’s the neighbor, there’s school, and so many other things and activities. Is our behavior and language at work that of one who answered the call of baptism? Does our home reflect a baptized Christian? Do the forms of recreation, including the use of the media, reflect what we say at today’s Mass? Does the manner of how you live out your marriages, and even your very fertility, demonstrate that you mean what you say [tonight/today]? The decisions we make, the careers we choose, our use of our money and our time, the things we read and the music we enjoy – are they those of a Christian, a Catholic, a Saint?

   So the Easter reminder of Baptism goes far beyond the admittedly beautiful sentiment and emotion we all enjoy at receiving new sisters in the faith – a joy we’ll share after Mass in the social hall with some simple refreshments. It is a challenge, a beautiful challenge; it is a summons, a glorious summons; it is the test of all tests. Let not just Rachel and Mindy reply, but let us all renew our response, and let us be brave and courageous in following our Lord every day, in every way, in the whole integrity of our human existence – courage and bravery not based on any sort of bombastic pride in our own perfections, for we are very weak; but founded on the trust we have in God, who loves us, and sent his only Son to save us in such a breathtaking way.

   Baptism is not all God has to offer: baptism is strengthened in Confirmation, and points to communion in the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist in fact is the sacrament of the fullness of the faith. My dear sisters, if you are so disposed to believe, hope in and love God in the one true Church which Jesus Christ created, and is his bride and love, prepare yourselves now to receive these great gifts, trusting completely in the mercy of the Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church, from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Librevia Editrice Vaticana

 

Vatican Website

 

 

 
 

 

 

Archives of Homilies on Elijah during Lent 2016

Online FlipBook

 

 

 
 

 

 
 

Archives of Homilies on the New English Translation