Wednesday January 29, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 10:11-18) Gospel (St. Mark 4:1-20)
In the reading this morning there is a line at the end which could be a little startling if it is misunderstood; it says, “Where there is forgiveness of these (that is, where there is forgiveness of sin), there is no longer offering for sin.” It sounds, therefore, like we do not need any more sacrifice. Now we have to look at the way that Saint Paul frames this. He says, “Every priest stands daily at his ministry, offering frequently those same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But this one (that is, Jesus) offered one sacrifice for sins, and took His seat forever at the right hand of God.” The point he is making is that the sacrifice of Christ, because it actually takes away sin – it does not merely cover it up the way that animal sacrifice did, but it actually takes it away – has made perfect forever those who are being consecrated.
This perfection that Saint Paul is talking about does not imply that just because Jesus offered Himself on the Cross for us means that we are now perfect. I think we all know better than that. There are certainly a number of saints who have become perfect, as we have spoken about many times before; but for us, it is a process of becoming perfect. We recall that Our Lord commanded us to be perfect; it was not just a suggestion. He commanded us: Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
That perfection can be understood in two ways. One is in the sense that we have overcome sin in our lives. We have grown in holiness to the point where we are transformed into God Himself. The second way it could be understood is that when one’s sins are forgiven they are gone, so that when God looks upon your soul, He does not see any of those sins. No matter what it is that may have happened in the course of your life, when you have confessed those sins and they are forgiven, they are gone. There is no longer any necessity to offer sacrifice for those sins; they are gone and they are gone forever. Even on the Day of Judgment they will not be brought up. God is not going to ask us about anything that has been forgiven in the confessional. It is gone forever.
The challenge for us, then, is to stay out of sin. We know that we have the sacrifice of Christ, the one sacrifice which continues to be offered. As we have spoken about last week, it is not a sacrifice happening again and again. It is not a new sacrifice. It is the one sacrifice which continues to be offered until the end of time. And that one sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin is offered so that any sins that we do commit can be removed, so that they too can be forgiven. Then no more sacrifice needs to be offered for those particular sins. And having the sins forgiven means that each one of us then has the opportunity to continue to grow in holiness. The sins no longer weigh us down, but rather, through the forgiveness of sin that comes in the confessional and through the grace which comes through receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, we are lifted up and we become that good soil that Our Lord talks about in the Gospel reading today.
If, on the other hand, we allow all the sins and all the problems to continue within our soul, it chokes off the Word or it does not even give it an opportunity. If the heart is so hardened that it becomes like the walking path and Satan just snatches the Word away, it does nothing. But if having our sins removed and recognizing what the Lord has done for us spurs us on to take up the prayer life, to grow in holiness, to seek union with Jesus Christ, and to unite ourselves with His sacrifice, then indeed we are being perfected. Our sins are removed, we are growing in holiness, and we are on the road to becoming perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. And through that same sacrifice that is offered for our sins, one day we will indeed be perfect and we will be able to enter into that eternal rest which is reserved only for those who are perfect, because Scripture tells us that nothing which is imperfect or impure can enter into Heaven.
So it is in that perfection, which comes through the forgiveness of sin and through union with Christ, and which is only available through that one sacrifice, that we would be forever perfected. That is what we are striving for. That is the primary vocation to which each of us has been called. That is the universal call to holiness, which begins with the forgiveness of sin and the acceptance of the sacrifice that is offered for the forgiveness of sin and to bring us into union with Christ. In that we are being perfected, and in that we will be perfected in Christ, so that we will be able to share with Him the glory of eternal life.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.