Monday January 17, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 5:1-10) Gospel (St. Mark 2:18-22)
In the first reading today, Saint Paul speaks to us about the high priesthood of Jesus. He tells us, Every high priest is taken from among men and made their representative before God, and the purpose is to offer gifts and sacrifices that are going to be acceptable to the Lord. He tells us also that, because the high priest himself is a sinner, he is able to deal patiently with other people who are sinners because he himself is beset by weakness. But then he speaks of Our Lord and says, He learned obedience through what He suffered; and when He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal life for all who obey Him.
Now we have to ask ourselves, “What exactly does this mean?” Jesus is the Son of God. He never sinned. He is perfect – and He always was – so how can He be made perfect? Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, tells us that Jesus was obedient even unto death. So how can He learn obedience if He was perfectly obedient?
The matter that we have to consider here has to do with our humanity. As the high priest, He is allowed to enter into the Holy of Holies, which the high priest did once a year. Jesus, as we will hear later on in this same Letter to the Hebrews, entered into the Holy of Holies that is not made by hands (the copy of the original one); He entered into heaven. When He entered into heaven, He took with Him His humanity and He offered to the heavenly Father all of the wounds that He had incurred on our behalf. Now we know that when He went to the Cross, which was His sacrifice, it was the sacrifice of His own body. Every high priest has to have a sacrifice to offer. In the Old Testament, it was the blood of bulls and goats. The high priest had to offer a bull for his own sins, the reason being that as the high priest Aaron had offered the golden calf in the desert and so God basically said, “If you are going to worship this stupid thing, then sacrifice it to Me.” So the high priest had to offer a bull (because that is what the high priest had worshiped out in the desert) and for the people he had to offer the blood of a goat. He had to take that blood with Him back into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat. But Jesus offered His humanity. It was not animal blood and animal flesh; it was human blood and human flesh that He offered. The blood of the bulls and goats could not take away sins; it merely covered them up. Because Jesus offered human blood and human flesh, it was able to remove sin because it was human beings who had sinned.
In this sacrifice of His own humanity (His whole Person, of course, but being able to do so because He had a human nature) He went to the Cross with all of our sins, with all of our imperfections. There was no sin or imperfection in Him, but He took us and all of our sins and all of our imperfections with Him. Just as we can look at the baptism of Our Lord and say that He was baptized so that we could be baptized and we were baptized in Him in His baptism, and just as we can say that when He was crucified it was our sins that were crucified and nailed to the Cross, so now we recognize that it is our disobedience and our imperfection that is being remedied through His obedience and through His perfect act of worship and honor to His heavenly Father. And so He is made perfect, meaning not the very Person of Christ (because there was no imperfection in Him) but the Mystical Person of Christ. We are made perfect in Him, just as we are baptized in Him, just as our sins are crucified in Him. Now, our sins being forgiven, we are made perfect, we are made obedient.
Obviously, in the manner in which we sit here today, I think we can all look very quickly at ourselves and realize we are far from perfect and far from obedient. So how is it that we can be perfect and obedient in Christ? Number one, it is the Mystical Body as a whole. The Church is perfect. The Church is perfectly obedient. The Church is the fullness of Christ. And so we do have that perfection already on earth. Then, for each and every one of us as individual members of the Mystical Body, the grace is there to be able to be perfect and to be able to be obedient to God. As I mentioned to you many times, this is not impossible. The saints have done it and it is fully possible for each and every one of us; not easy, but possible that we an actually make it to the point in the spiritual life where we will be perfectly obedient to the Will of God. And when we are perfectly obedient to the Will of God and our will is one with His, there will be no more sin in our lives. We will have removed all sin and all imperfection, spiritually speaking, from within us.
So that is what is possible for us, and that is what it means that Christ was made perfect. His Mystical Body was made perfect in this sacrifice. His priesthood was made perfect. The obedience of the Church was made perfect in what it is that He did. For us, then, we cannot sit back and say, “I can’t do it.” By ourselves, no we cannot; but in Christ we can because it has already been done for us. It is now merely for us to enter into what He has already done, to unite ourselves with Him. If we are willing to be sacrificed with Him, if we are willing to exercise our baptismal priesthood, we too can be made obedient, we too can be made perfect; and therefore the redemption of Christ and the salvation He won for us will also, within us, be made perfect.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.