Thursday February 3, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hebrews 12:18-19, 21-24) Gospel (St. Mark 6:7-13)
In the first reading today, Saint Paul is comparing the two covenants that the Jewish people had, that is, the covenant with Moses and the New Covenant with Jesus. The Old Covenant, of course, was made with the people at Mount Sinai. We recall that they were told that they could not come near to the mountain; no one could touch it. Even if an animal came near to the mountain, it had to be stoned to death. And it was with a dark cloud coming down upon the mountain and the thunder and the lightning and the trumpet blasts and so on, as Saint Paul points out, reminding the people that they heard the voice of God and they begged Moses never to hear His voice again. They told Moses, “If God wants to speak, let Him speak to you; then you tell us what He wants us to say, but we don’t want to hear His voice.” They were too afraid, terrified by the glory of the Lord. So it was in that kind of splendor – but also in that kind of terror, if you will – that the Old Covenant was made.
Saint Paul then suggests that we look at the New Covenant and the way that is being lived out and what it is that we are called to, not to a physical mountain but rather to Mount Zion. There is indeed a physical mountain called “Zion” but in this case it is a spiritual thing that Saint Paul is talking about, which is why he is contrasting that which can be touched with that which cannot. The spiritual mountain is the place of the dwelling of God. That is what he tells us: It is the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. It is not where the earthly Jerusalem is, but the heavenly Jerusalem. And along with this we are drawn near, he tells us, to the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, to God Who is the judge of all, to the spirits of the just made perfect, to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood which speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
So we see what he is contrasting: the Old Covenant that was written in stone, the Old Covenant which brought death to anyone who did not follow it, and the New Covenant which gives life, the New Covenant which brings us into union with God, which brings us close to Christ, which brings us into union with the angels and the saints, which brings us right into heaven itself. That is what has been given to us. That is how much God loves us. We look at the Old Covenant and we see the glory and the grandeur and all of the things that were there, and then we look at the new and we see that the old is almost as nothing by comparison. In fact, as Saint Paul is pointing out, in so many ways it is just the opposite. The New Covenant is far, far greater. The covenant which is ours in Christ surpasses the Old Covenant in a way that is beyond what we can even really begin to understand. But that is the covenant into which each one of us has been baptized.
The New Covenant, as we have said so many times, is a person; it is the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. It is not laws written on stone, but rather it is love written in a heart, in our hearts, in our souls, because we are made members of Jesus Christ. When we are incorporated into this covenant, we are given a share in the divine life, we are brought into heaven where, Saint Paul tells us, we are already seated at God’s right hand in Christ. This is the dignity of who we are, to be made sharers of this new covenant. When we put the two together as Saint Paul did – as he is writing to these Jewish priests who became Catholic priests and showing them, “Here is the covenant that you have served in the past, and here is what you now have,” and he lays the two out – it is then that we can really see how much God has done for us, how much He loves us, how much He has given to us.
Now what remains is for us to be able to accept it, to embrace it, to live it, to be able to understand this in the depths of our being and live it out in our day-to-day life because this is who we truly are. Not merely for the future someday when we die that we can go to heaven, but it is already happening right in our souls. Our souls are heaven because they are the dwelling place of the Holy Trinity when we are in the state of grace. Our souls are that uncreated sanctuary, as we saw, where Jesus has already entered. It is not something we are merely looking forward to; we are looking forward to the fullness and the complete fulfillment, but in this covenant which is Christ the reality is already present within each one of us. Now what we have to do is enter into the reality. It is already there; it is merely waiting for us to be able to enter into it and to live it out in its fullness.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.