Transcription of Homily
A continuation of the Holy Gospel, according to St. Luke.
At that time, Jesus took unto Him the 12 men and said to them, “Behold we go up to Jerusalem and all things shall be accomplished which were written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man. For He shall be delivered to the Gentiles and shall be mocked and scourged and spit upon. And after they have scourged Him, they will put Him to death, and the third day He shall rise again.”
And they understood none of these things and this word was hidden from them. And they understood not the things that were said. Now it came to pass when He drew nigh to Jericho, that a certain blind man sat by the wayside begging, and when he heard the multitude passing by he asked what this meant, and they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by and he cried out, saying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me”. And they that went before rebuked him that he should hold his peace but he cried out much more, “Son of David, have mercy on me”.
And Jesus standing, commanded him to be brought unto Him and when he was coming here, He asked Him saying, “What will thou that I do to thee?”
But he said, “Lord, that I may see.” And Jesus said to him, “Receive thy sight, by thy faith hath made thee whole.” And immediately he saw and followed Him, glorifying God and all the people when they saw it gave praise to God.
The saving words of the Gospel.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Ecce ascendimus Ierosolymam; Behold we go up to Jerusalem. These are the words with which we begin this third prophecy of the Passion of Our Lord, these were also the words for the Benedictus antiphon in today’s Morning Prayer. And last week, we heard about what it meant to work and to labor and toil in the vineyard of the Lord. And this week, in a certain sense, we follow this same theme, seeing what it means to be a true follower of our Lord in His vineyard, not just as laborer, but what it means to be identified with the one for whom we labor.
This is His third prediction of the Passion. The first one was right before the Transfiguration. The second was right after the Transfiguration, and now before the ascent to the Holy City, where all of these endless sacrifices are being offered before the Divine Presence in the Temple, Our Lord gives this third prophecy that here the ultimate sacrifice is to be offered: the Lamb without blemish.
A friend of mine, who has a mission in Jerusalem, told me that, in the Franciscan church there, it is a tradition on Christmas Eve to invite 100 Jews to the Midnight Mass. And as they were explaining to the Jews the parts of the Mass and they said, “And then at this point, we will say ‘Behold the Lamb of God’”, this woman, turned to my friend and said, “Is that the Unblemished Lamb?” And she said, “Yes, it is.” And she began to weep uncontrollably and within a year, she was a Catholic. So this is the ongoing sacrifice of the Unblemished Lamb and our Lord is telling His hearers, His closest friends, this is the Good News. This is the Good News: I’m going to be tortured. I’m going to be killed. I’m going to be mocked. And this is the Good News. This is at the core of the Good News that gives all the other aspects of the Good News their own efficacy. It’s precisely this sacrifice, this ultimate sacrifice, which was foreshadowed by all the previous sacrifices in the Temple. And here we see not a figure, not a type, not a preparation, we see what everything was pointing at. And we will only understand those symbolic sacrifices before the sacrifice of Christ in the light of Christ’s definitive sacrifice.
We go up. This is an interesting, anabainein, this is a very interesting word – to go up; to ascend – in Greek because it’s a verb that in, for example, Matthew’s Gospel, it only is used in relationship to Christ with one exception, and that’s this one, where it’s used in the first person plural; we; we go up. So it’s not an exception, because it’s Christ who subsumes His followers, His priests, and also this collective notion of sacrifice because the priests will participate in that sacrifice, will confect that sacrifice. There is a felicitous coincidence of linguistics here, ‘olah which means to go up in Hebrew and which again is in Greek, anabainomen, but then we’ve got Holokaútōma is actually the word. Holokaútōma comes from hólos, which means whole, the whole thing. Kaustós… you’ve heard the word holistic, right, that’s where we get that from the Greek hólos. So Holokaútōma … kaustós means to be burnt. And so we’ve all met people that have caustic personalities, right? So it’s kind of stinging to be around and don’t get too close to get burned. Well, holokaútōma then is something that is wholly burnt, so the burnt offerings of the Temple that go up in smoke to please the Father.
When our Lord is saying, “We go up to the Holy City”, there’s a lot in that. This is not just travel plans. There is a lot in those words that is understood and certainly in hindsight, better understood. Golgotha then will be the pinnacle, the externalization of everything that preceded that moment of sacrifice. Everything was impelling, moving our Lord through the Holy Spirit, moving Him towards sacrifice from His birth to Golgotha.
The Letter to the Hebrews tells us how Christ is the new Isaac who carries His own wood up the mountain to be sacrificed. You know, the mountain is the place of encounter between God and man. And this is the fulfillment of the greatest of the Father’s desires; that the Son be sacrificed for our salvation. The Letter to the Hebrews goes on to say, “Sacrifices and offerings You have desired but a body You prepared for Me. Behold, I come to do Your will. He abolishes the first in order to establish the second and by that we will have been sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all. So Christ is already hinting in this we of the we asend, we go up, to Jerusalem. He’s hinting at priestly ordination. He’s hinting at the Mass that will be offered up to the Father in a collective form. Right? He’s showing how His followers are joined to the sacrifice and this anabainein.
This verb is used also in key moments in the public ministry of Christ. The first time we see it is when in His baptism He goes up out of the waters and what happens? The descent of the Holy Spirit, right? So we see this encounter of heaven and earth and this encounter of heaven earth is Christ who is the locus of this encounter. He is the Hypostatic Union; the Word made flesh. He comes out of the waters. Ascending, it says. He ascended out of the waters and the dove, the Holy Spirit in the figure of a dove, descended upon Him. And so Christ doesn’t in an abstract way sanctify our nature but in a very concrete way, because He takes it upon Himself in order to suffer in it and thereby turn suffering into an indirect good. Suffering is always evil, says the Catechism, but joined to Christ it becomes a path to salvation and sanctification.
He also goes up a mountain at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. He goes up, sits down, teaches in that order; He goes up, sits down, teaches. Sits sitting is the teaching posture for a rabbi. And He doesn’t go up to the mountain to escape the crowds. He goes up to the mountain because that’s the symbolic place of encounter, but it’s also so you can be better heard, so He can draw people as we hear Him say elsewhere “When the Son of Man is lifted up, He will draw all men to Himself.” So He goes up to the mountain to draw all of us to Him. Not just because He’s a teacher but also to subsume us into His sacrifice. So He arises from the banalities of our everyday things to go to the place of encounter with God.
It says also, “He went up into the hill country to pray after He fed the 5000”; He went up. So His body is following what His soul was already doing and encountering the Father.
We know in Christology that Christ, the Word, was always beholding the face of His Father. From the first moment in His sacred humanity from the first moment of the Hypostatic Union – Protestants don’t like to hear this – His Sacred Humanity was beholding the Face of the Father in the womb of the Blessed Mother. So He ascends from the valley of our human existence to this place on the mountain. He ascends the Mount of Transfiguration after the prophecy.
He goes up to a mountain and people bring Him the sick, the lame, the mute, and they lay them at His feet. He seated. It says He went up to the mountain and sat down again. You see that same coincidence of action. And they just lay the grieving afflicted people at His feet, and His feet are rough and jagged from walking. And regal nonetheless or, better said, because of that, regal. As He’s seated on His throne, and they just lay the people at His feet and they’re healed. There’s no gesture, there’s no word. It’s just a healing through His Divine Presence and their faith in Him. It’s really a beautiful scene if we meditate on that. And He is also the God who reigns, who goes up to the cross to drawn us to Himself. Regnavit a ligno Deus; God who reigns from the wood. He goes up Golgotha, He ascends. Not only to the City, but also to that hill of Golgotha. But that’s not His last ascent.
What happens after His resurrection? Mary Magdalene tries to cling to Him and He says, “Don’t cling to me. I haven’t yet ascended to the Father.” Because when the Word is made flesh, death and suffering no longer have the last word. He is the Word; He is the First and the Last Word. And so He ascends to the Father, whom He was always contemplating. Ephesians says, “In saying He ascended, what does it mean but to say that He had also descended into the lower part of the earth? He who had descended is He who also ascended, far above the heavens, that He might fill all things.”
So how do we ascend with Him to Jerusalem? Well, we have a few days left to make our Lenten programs. What will this look like? What will my ascent to the Holy City look like? It’s going to be different in each case. Each one of us is going to have different needs, different abilities, but each of us ought to make a very concrete program. How am I going to ascend with Christ to accompany Him to suffer with Him to die to myself with Him? This Lent, which is unrepeatable. It is never going to happen again. We’re never going to have another opportunity like this Lent. Grace is not recyclable. So the actual graces we receive, that inspire us to be generous, are the ones for now. So what is our Lord calling you to what is He calling me to?
Well, it ought to incorporate fasting. We have a minimalist understanding of fasting in the West, right? Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. That’s the minimum. Okay, that’s a minimum. And then, “So I forgot it was a fast day yesterday.” Yeah. So you forgot 50% of the tiny bit that is expected of us, great. Congratulations. Well, a way to overcome that is to be more generous. A lot more generous, maybe one or two days a week of fasting. Figure it out. Other penances. The rules to follow with our penance is it ought not harm our health. We have to be able to function. So figure out what works for you.
It should be costly to your nature. I used to tell my mom I was giving up liver and onions. She wasn’t fooled, okay. I wasn’t fooled. I came from a family of lawyers.
So it ought to be costly to our nature. It ought to be doable, but it ought not harm our health and we ought to be able to function. So if I sleep on the floor, great. If I put a pebble in my shoe, great. If I can take cold showers, great. But maybe somebody has arthritis and can not sleep on the floor or take a cold shower. So it’s going to be different in each case.
Fasting, penance, mental prayer, not just devotions, but mental prayer. Teresa of Avila says if there’s no prayer, there’s no salvation. If there’s no mental prayer, there’s no holiness – no holiness. And it’s a quantum leap from vocal prayer devotions to mental prayer. If you don’t know how do it, figure it out. Look up” Lectio Divina – Catholic method of mental prayer” – and apply the method okay? Because without it, there’s no holiness and we spiral. We’re not advancing. We’re not going to advance in a spiritual life without daily mental prayer well done. Doesn’t have to be long, it has to be well done.
And virtue. What virtues should I work on? Well, it’s going to be different in each case. What is the vice I most frequently confess? Well, find the counter virtue to that, make a very realistic concrete program and ask your guardian angel to inspire you as you write it out. When you’re done writing it out, ask your guardian angel to help you carry it out. Once you’ve got your demanding and realistic program prepared, bring it to the Sacred Heart and say, “Lord, I want to go up to Jerusalem with You. This is my program. I want to accompany You.” And in as much as I accompany Him in His Passion, in His sorrow, in His grief over sin, in reparation, to that degree, in a proportionate way, we will rejoice at His resurrection.
In the name of the Father, Son Holy Ghost Amen.