Homily to theASCENT participants at Worth Abbey for the Saturday of the 16th Week of Ordinary Time, Year 1.
Before there were many Catholic priests throughout the world, there were the Twelve Apostles.
Before Jesus called Apostles to himself, there were Levitical priests offering sacrifice in the Jewish Temple.
Before there was a Temple, Moses anointed Aaron and his sons to be the high priestly family of all Israel.
But before Aaron was chosen, it was the young people of Israel who were chosen for the priestly duty of making sacrifice to God.
Now, I’ve been a Catholic priest for 14 years. I’m very happy with what I do – each day I stand at the altar and open a time portal, connecting our lives here and now with what Jesus did once and for all on the Hill of Calvary. He was the Lamb of God, the only sacrifice powerful enough to forgive our sins and open the gates of heaven. Last night, Fin preached about the importance of obedience to God – and in the last two thousand years, hundreds of millions of times, Catholic priests have obeyed Jesus’ command to “do this in memory of me”. The Mass is a sacrifice, but not a new sacrifice – it is the one and eternal sacrifice. At least, it’s not a new or repeated sacrifice for God.
But it is for me!
I once saw a friend wearing a wonderful T-shirt: “The problem with living sacrifices is that they try to crawl off the altar.”
We are each called to be a living sacrifice, making a daily decision to place God at the centre of our lives. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we fail. In fact, each one of us is a field where wheat and weeds grow together. Some of our bad habits are so entwined with our personalities that we can’t see how to stop the bad patterns in our lives without harming something good about who we are. God doesn’t seem to be a in hurry – he has given each one of us a lifetime to try to deal with the problem of sin in our lives. But each day we have to make a fresh decision not only to walk away from temptations to do things which are selfish – we also have to make a daily decision to place Jesus at the centre. Do you call him Lord? A Lord is not a special advisor. If you want to take some of his advice and reject the rest, by all means sing songs in honour of Jesus Christ your Counsellor, but don’t go further than that! Like an Army Commander, a Lord gets the last word, or you’re out of the ranks!
Now, what about these young Israelites who were called to offer sacrifice? They had to do three things. First, they received the live animals which the people of Israel brought. Then they slaughtered the creatures as sacrifices. Third, they brought the blood to Moses so he could sprinkle it on the people!
Remember that in those days, the people of Israel were nomads. They travelled from place to place in a barren desert. You can’t grow crops when you don’t stay in one place all year round. They took sheep and goats and cattle to graze on the plants which grew wild – the animals were their security. To give away an animal was to give away true wealth – no more milk, no more lambs or calves, no meat from that creature. For an Israelite to entrust you with one of their precious livestock must have been a truly humbling moment!
Now don’t worry – no living creatures were or will be harmed in the making of this sermon! We are not in the business of sacrificing animals; we don’t need to, because now we know God was pointing forward to the only Lamb that ever needed to be sacrificed, Jesus Christ Himself. We might, indeed, be asked to make the sacrifice of eating less meat in our lives, for the sake of our planet. But as young people called to God’s Royal Priesthood, which comes as part of our baptism, when do other people bring us things to sacrifice?
Sometimes, others bring us their bad behaviour. We will feel tempted to react emotionally and give as good as we get. But as mediators of peace, we can ask for God’s help to suck it up, turn the other cheek, and channel into prayer our frustrations about what we can’t change in other people. Jesus instructed us to love, bless and pray for our enemies – and that goes for the friends who annoy us, too!
Sometimes, others bring us their burdens. We need to listen to a friend in distress. We might feel humbled by their trust, and powerless in the face of their problems. But we are mediators between our friend and the greatest Power in the universe! It’s hardly ever inappropriate to tell your friend that you’re going to pray for them. And take a risk – usually it’s OK to offer to pray WITH them. Just say you believe in a God who can help and you’re wondering if it’s OK to say a prayer with them right now. When they say YES, wait to see what God does in their lives!
The young people of Israel RECEIVED the sacrifices. You will receive the bad behaviour and the burdens which others bring you.
The young people of Israel OFFERED the sacrifices. You are invited to make a daily decision to be a living sacrifice, to help your friends bear their burdens, to turn the other cheek to your enemies. Stay on the altar – don’t crawl away.
The young people of Israel BROUGHT the blood to Moses. You are not on your own – as God’s priestly people, you are called to pray for your enemies and your friends. You are mediators between them and Jesus Christ. A hundred years ago, God spoke to the world twice to remind us of this. At Fatima, an angel taught the visionary children to offer to the Holy Trinity, “the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world”. In Poland, St Faustina Kowalska was by Jesus Himself taught to pray the Chaplet of Mercy for those in need – “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” As an ordained priest, I get to stand at an altar and make present the Sacrifice of Jesus in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. As baptised priests, you get to stand in the world and invoke the power of the blood of Jesus on your friends and upon your enemies.
Before there were Catholic priests, there were the Twelve Apostles.
Before the High Priestly line of Aaron, there were the young people of Israel.
You are God’s first choice to offer sacrifice, to be priests for the people in your lives, people who don’t even know they need someone to plead for them before the throne of God.
Don’t worry about the weeds in your lives. God will deal with those in good time. Look after the wheat. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Lift up your friends before God and pour out upon them the power of the Blood of Jesus. God has chosen you to do this – all you have to do is stay at the altar!