“Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.”
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Supplication of Christ in Agony (Ps 143: 1-10)
Hear my prayer, O God, give ear to my supplications! In your faithfulness answer me,in your righteousness! Enter not into judgment with your servant for no one living is righteous before you.
For the enemy has pursued me, has crushed my life to the ground, and has made me sit in darkness like those long dead. Therefore my spirit faints within me; my heart within me is appalled. I remember the days of old, I meditate on all that you have done; I muse on what your hands have wrought, I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Make haste to answer me, O God, My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the Pit, Let me hear in the mourning of your steadfast love, for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul. Deliver me, O God, from my enemies.
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will for you are my God!
Let your good spirit lead me on a level path!
Glory be to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world without end.
Almighty ever-living God,
grant that we may always conform our will to yours
and serve your majesty in sincerity of heart.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
The LORD was pleased
to crush him in infirmity.
If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.
Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
The lesson to be learned from these two verses of second-Isaiah (it would be well to read the entire prophecy, or Fourth Servant Oracle as it is called, in Is. 52: 13-53 : 12), is that God in his extraordinary, infinite love for us men and for our salvation, decreed that his divine Son in his assumed human nature, should suffer torture and death so that we might live eternally. The leaders of the Jews plotted his death, and forced the Roman authorities to condemn him to the shameful death of crucifixion, but this was all in God’s plan for us before he created the world. Christ, the Son of God, knew this all along; he tried to prepare his disciples for the shock his death and sufferings would cause them by foretelling on three distinct occasions, that he would suffer and be put to death, but that he would triumph over death and rise again (see Mk. 8: 31-33; 9: 30-32; 10: 32-34). In the garden of Gethsemane, as his hour drew near, he suffered agony because his human nature shrank from the tortures which he vividly foresaw; nevertheless he accepted what his Father had planned and humbly and submissively said: “yet not what I will but what thou wilt ” (Mk. 14: 36).
That Christ our Lord was the suffering obedient Servant foretold by the prophet is evident from the gospel story. He was “rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering . . . yet ours were the sufferings he bore, our sorrows he carried . . . he was crushed for our sins . . . We had all gone astray like sheep . . . Yahweh burdened him with the sins of us all . . . like a lamb that is led to the slaughter-house, like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers, never opening his mouth” (Is. 53: 3-7). This prophecy had its literal fulfillment in Christ. This is testified by all four gospels. It is not so much the fact that one might be tempted to question, but rather the reason, the necessity, why it had to be thus. Could not God have found other ways of bringing men to heaven without subjecting his divine Son to humiliations and sufferings?
God alone has the full and satisfying answer to this question, and part of our joy in heaven will be to learn the answers to this and to other theological questions which trouble us on earth. Both the Old and New Testaments indicate at least a partial answer to this particular question: when they tell us this was an effect of God’s infinite love for us. We, of course, can form no adequate idea of what infinite love is and does. But even finite love, if true and meaningful, can and does go to great extremes for the sake of those loved. For instance, true patriots in all ages have never hesitated to sacrifice their lives for their country and their fellow countrymen. Their finite love was sufficient to move them to make the supreme sacrifice. God was not dealing with the preservation of a country’s freedom or its liberation from an oppressor, he was dealing with the eternal freedom and happiness of the whole human race. The task was great, the end desired was of everlasting value, the life sacrificed was God’s own Son in his human nature–but the love of God which his Son shared with him, was infinite and therefore capable of any sacrifice.
Furthermore, if we knew our own weak, lazy, human nature as well as God knows it, we would see another reason for the extraordinary manifestation of his love. The cross of Christ, the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, the cruel nails through the hands and feet, are reminders that will touch a chord even in the coldest Christian heart. With these reminders of God’s love for us many of us are still all too slow to show our appreciation of all God has done for us. How much less responsive, how much less appreciative of what eternal life is worth, would such Christians be, if God had opened heaven for them in a less impressive way?
Our Savior took human nature–an act of extreme humiliation, in order to make us his brothers and therefore sons of God. He came into a world of sin where God the Creator was practically forgotten. He told those who “had ears to hear,” of God and of his desire to give unending life in his own eternal kingdom, to all who would follow the Christian precepts. He established a society–the Church–on earth which would continue until the end of time to proclaim God’s mercy and love. He was tortured and put to the cruelest of deaths because of the opposition and hatred of some of the Jews among whom he lived. But as God, and with God his Father, he foresaw all this and in the full knowledge that he would rise again, willingly accepted it notwithstanding the agonies it would cause him. While the resurrection made his life and death a success and an eternal triumph it did not make the pains of his passion any easier.
We may not understand what infinite love is, but we cannot fail to see the glorious effects that the infinite love of God has earned for us. We are citizens of heaven. We must expect to meet some obstacles on the way–there will be troubles and trials in our lives, but one look at our crucifix should make us realize how little we are asked to suffer for our own salvation when compared with what Christ has suffered to make salvation possible.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 64 Through the prophets, God forms his people in the hope of salvation, in the expectation of a new and everlasting Covenant intended for all, to be written on their hearts.1 The prophets proclaim a radical redemption of the People of God, purification from all their infidelities, a salvation which will include all the nations.2 Above all, the poor and humble of the Lord will bear this hope. Such holy women as Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Judith and Esther kept alive the hope of Israel’s salvation. The purest figure among them is Mary.3
CCC 440 Jesus accepted Peter’s profession of faith, which acknowledged him to be the Messiah, by announcing the imminent Passion of the Son of Man.4 He unveiled the authentic content of his messianic kingship both in the transcendent identity of the Son of Man “who came down from heaven”, and in his redemptive mission as the suffering Servant: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”5 Hence the true meaning of his kingship is revealed only when he is raised high on the cross.6 Only after his Resurrection will Peter be able to proclaim Jesus’ messianic kingship to the People of God: “Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”7
CCC 579 This principle of integral observance of the Law not only in letter but in spirit was dear to the Pharisees. By giving Israel this principle they had led many Jews of Jesus’ time to an extreme religious zeal.8 This zeal, were it not to lapse into “hypocritical” casuistry,9 could only prepare the People for the unprecedented intervention of God through the perfect fulfillment of the Law by the only Righteous One in place of all sinners.10
CCC 601 The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of “the righteous one, my Servant” as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin.11 Citing a confession of faith that he himself had “received”, St. Paul professes that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.”12 In particular Jesus’ redemptive death fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering Servant.13 Indeed Jesus himself explained the meaning of his life and death in the light of God’s suffering Servant.14 After his Resurrection he gave this interpretation of the Scriptures to the disciples at Emmaus, and then to the apostles.15
CCC 615 “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.”16 By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who “makes himself an offering for sin”, when “he bore the sin of many”, and who “shall make many to be accounted righteous”, for “he shall bear their iniquities”.17 Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father.18
CCC 1502 The man of the Old Testament lives his sickness in the presence of God. It is before God that he laments his illness, and it is of God, Master of life and death, that he implores healing.19 Illness becomes a way to conversion; God’s forgiveness initiates the healing.20 It is the experience of Israel that illness is mysteriously linked to sin and evil, and that faithfulness to God according to his law restores life: “For I am the Lord, your healer.”21 The prophet intuits that suffering can also have a redemptive meaning for the sins of others.22 Finally Isaiah announces that God will usher in a time for Zion when he will pardon every offense and heal every illness.23
1 Cf. Isa 2:2-4; Jer 31:31-34; Heb 10:16.
2 Cf. Ezek 36; Isa 49:5-6; 53:11.
3 Cf. Ezek 2:3; Lk 1:38.
4 Cf. Mt 16:16-23.
5 Jn 3:13; Mt 20:28; cf. Jn 6:62; Dan 7:13; Is 53:10-12.
6 Cf. Jn 19:19-22; Lk 23:39-43.
7 Acts 2:36.
8 Cf. Rom 10:2.
9 Cf. Mt 15:31; Lk 11:39-54.
10 Cf Is 53:11; Heb 9:15.
11 Is 53:11; cf. 53:12; Jn 8 34-36; Acts 3:14.
12 1 Cor 15:3; cf. also Acts 3:18; 7:52; 13:29; 26:22-23.
13 Cf. Is 53:7-8 and Acts 8:32-35.
14 Cf. Mt 20:28.
15 Cf. Lk 24:25-27, 44-45.
16 Rom 5:19.
17 Is 53:10-12.
18 Cf. Council of Trent (1547): DS 1529.
19 Cf. Pss 6:3; 38; Isa 38.
20 Cf. Pss 32:5; 38:5; 39:9, 12; 107:20; cf. Mk 2:5-12.
21 Ex 15:26.
22 Cf. Isa 53:11.
23 Cf. Isa 33:24.
Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22
Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
Brothers and sisters:
Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
We Christians are God’s chosen people of today. Compared with his Chosen People of the Old Testament, we have infinitely greater blessings and advantages. They knew of the existence of the one true and only God, the Creator of all things, and they knew he was interested in them. Although they knew that he existed they knew very little else about him, and their chief interest in him was to obtain from him all earthly blessings: health, wealth and progeny. They had only a very hazy idea of the future life or what it held for them, yet they did know they were chosen by God so that through them God would send a great blessing on all nations; somehow, sometime they would have a share in that blessing.
We Christians are indeed fortunate that we know much more about God and our real purpose in life. Through the incarnation we have learned that God loves us so much that he sent his divine Son to live among us in order to make us heirs to heaven. That divine Son of God suffered and died in his human nature in order to make perfect atonement to his Father in our behalf. This, surely, was divine love for us creatures. Not only did God make us heirs to his eternal kingdom through the incarnation, but he gave us his own divine Son to be our leader and intermediary between himself and us.
Unlike the Jews of old we know clearly what our real purpose in life is. It is not to be found on this earth, it is the eternal happiness that awaits us after death. Life on earth is but a preparation for the real life to come. This knowledge coupled with the assurance that Christ our brother is pleading for us at the throne of grace, should fill every Christian with courage and hope. Christ knows our weaknesses and should we give in to them and the temptations of life, he is ready to obtain from our Father in heaven pardon the moment we repent of our fall.
We are fortunate to have such a loving and all-powerful high priest who has entered heaven before us and is preparing a place for us. No true Christian can ever despair. God has proved how much he loves us, and how anxious he is to share his heaven with us. Christ, the Son of God, endured the humiliation of the incarnation and the sufferings and pains of his life on earth, and his cruel death on the cross, because he gladly cooperated with the Father in making us heirs of heaven.
With such an intermediary and helper how can we fail to reach our goal? With God and his divine Son on our side, who is against us?
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 784 On entering the People of God through faith and Baptism, one receives a share in this people’s unique, priestly vocation: “Christ the Lord, high priest taken from among men, has made this new people ‘a kingdom of priests to God, his Father.’ The baptized, by regeneration and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, are consecrated to be a spiritual house and a holy priesthood.”1
CCC 1537 The word order in Roman antiquity designated an established civil body, especially a governing body. Ordinatio means incorporation into an ordo. In the Church there are established bodies which Tradition, not without a basis in Sacred Scripture,2 has since ancient times called taxeis (Greek) or ordines. And so the liturgy speaks of the ordo episcoporum, the ordo presbyterorum, the ordo diaconorum. Other groups also receive this name of ordo: catechumens, virgins, spouses, widows,…
CCC 1539 The chosen people was constituted by God as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”3 But within the people of Israel, God chose one of the twelve tribes, that of Levi, and set it apart for liturgical service; God himself is its inheritance.4 A special rite consecrated the beginnings of the priesthood of the Old Covenant. The priests are “appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.”5
CCC 1540 Instituted to proclaim the Word of God and to restore communion with God by sacrifices and prayer,6 this priesthood nevertheless remains powerless to bring about salvation, needing to repeat its sacrifices ceaselessly and being unable to achieve a definitive sanctification, which only the sacrifice of Christ would accomplish.7
CCC 1564 “Whilst not having the supreme degree of the pontifical office, and notwithstanding the fact that they depend on the bishops in the exercise of their own proper power, the priests are for all that associated with them by reason of their sacerdotal dignity; and in virtue of the sacrament of Holy Orders, after the image of Christ, the supreme and eternal priest, they are consecrated in order to preach the Gospel and shepherd the faithful as well as to celebrate divine worship as true priests of the New Testament.”8
CCC 1578 No one has a right to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders. Indeed no one claims this office for himself; he is called to it by God.9 Anyone who thinks he recognizes the signs of God’s call to the ordained ministry must humbly submit his desire to the authority of the Church, who has the responsibility and right to call someone to receive orders. Like every grace this sacrament can be received only as an unmerited gift.
1 LG 10; Cf. Heb 5:1-5; Rev 1:6.
2 Cf. Heb 5:6; 7:11; Ps 110:4.
3 Ex 19:6; cf. Isa 61:6.
4 Cf. Num 1:48-53; Josh 13:33.
5 Heb 5:1; cf. Ex 29:1-30; Lev 8.
6 Cf. Mal 2:7-9.
7 Cf. Heb 5:3; 7:27; 101-4.
8 LG 28 cf. Heb 5:1-10; 7:24; 9:11-28; Innocent I, Epist. ad Decentium:PL 20,554A; St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Oratio 2,22:PG 35,432B.
9 Cf. Heb 5:4.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him,
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?”
They answered him, “Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the cup that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
They said to him, “We can.”
Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Our own natural inclination most likely would be to react like the other ten Apostles and become vexed with James and John and to tell them what we thought of their selfish worldly ambitions. However, our Lord’s gentle answer: “you do not know what you are asking” shows us that ignorance of the nature of the kingdom he was going to set up, was the cause of their very human ambitions. They, with the other Apostles, had still the common Jewish idea of the messianic kingdom. They thought the Messiah–and they were now convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah–would set up a political kingdom in Palestine, oust the pagan Romans and eventually extend his kingdom to all nations. That this kingdom he would set up would be universal, extending to all nations, was indicated in almost all the, messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, but that this kingdom would be spiritual not political, was not grasped by most of Christ’s contemporaries including the Apostles.
Jesus, knowing that his Apostles still had this wrong idea, was gentle with James and John. He took this opportunity to tell them that he would set up a glorious kingdom but that his sufferings and death would be a necessary prelude to its establishment. He had already referred to his sufferings and death three times, but the mention fell on deaf ears. Their argument was: how could he suffer death when he has still to establish his earthly kingdom? The truth in fact was that it was by means of his sufferings and death that he would establish his glorious kingdom. He challenged the two Apostles then to know if they were willing to pay the price for a high place in his glorious kingdom: were they prepared to follow him through suffering and death? He accepted their affirmation, knowing it to be true, but told them their position of honor depended on his Father’s decision. Once they realized the nature of his glorious kingdom they would be the last to look for positions of honor in it.
While no Christian today thinks that Christ came on earth in order to make us wealthy, happy and prosperous during our few years on earth, there are, unfortunately, many Christians who are unwilling to accept Christ’s teaching that the way to heavenly glory is the way of the cross. “All this and heaven too” is their motto. It would, of course, be marvelous if all our days on earth were days of peace, happiness and prosperity to be followed by eternal happiness–when we “shuffle off this mortal coil.” But any man who has the use of reason sees that our world is inhabited by weak, sin-inclined and usually sinful mortals, himself included–weak mortals who can and do disturb the peace and harmony that could regulate our mortal lives. There are “accidents” on our roads and highways every day of the year, frequently causing death or grave injury to hundreds. The rules of the road, if kept by all, would prevent ninety-nine per cent of such accidents–the other one per cent are caused by mechanical failure. Would any man be so naive as to expect that we could have even one day free from car accidents?
Because man has a free-will he is liable to abuse it by choosing what is sinful and wrong. Most of the crosses and trials we meet in life are caused by violations–by ourselves and others–of the rules of life and the laws of charity and justice. To prevent this abuse of free-will, God would have to deprive men of that essential gift which, with his intellect, makes him a man. Likewise, we could prevent all road accidents by removing the steering wheels from cars but then we would have no cars. Let us face the fact, almost all the hardships and sufferings which we have to bear in life, are caused by the unjust and uncharitable actions of our fellowman: and even God himself, following his own wise pattern of life for men on earth, cannot prevent such evil actions.
Would God want to prevent all such injustices and all this inhumanity of man toward his fellowman? Not that he approves of it, much less causes it, but can he not have a purpose in permitting it? How would we, his children on earth, earn heaven if this world were an earthly paradise? What loving father would keep his children from school because they found it a hardship, and when they could be so happy playing at home all day and every day? School is absolutely necessary for those children’s future, and it is because fathers are truly kind to their children that they compel them to undergo this temporary hardship. God is the kindest of fathers. He wants us all in heaven. He has mapped out the road which will lead us there. He allows these hardships to come our way so that we can prepare for our real future life.
With James and John, let us tell our divine Lord that we are ready to follow him on the path to Calvary; that we are ready to drink the cup of sufferings which he drank and to be immersed in the sorrows which he endured. He went through all of this for us; we are doing it for our own sakes. He carried the real cross–ours is light when compared with his; furthermore, he will help us to bear our daily trial and struggles. How could any Christian become weary and faint-hearted when he has Christ helping him on the road?
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission of Franciscan Press
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 548 The signs worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him. They invite belief in him.1 To those who turn to him in faith, he grants what they ask.2 So miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father’s works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God.3 But his miracles can also be occasions for “offence”;4 they are not intended to satisfy people’s curiosity or desire for magic Despite his evident miracles some people reject Jesus; he is even accused of acting by the power of demons.5
CCC 2616 Prayer to Jesus is answered by him already during his ministry, through signs that anticipate the power of his death and Resurrection: Jesus hears the prayer of faith, expressed in words (the leper, Jairus, the Canaanite woman, the good thief)6 or in silence (the bearers of the paralytic, the woman with a hemorrhage who touches his clothes, the tears and ointment of the sinful woman).7 The urgent request of the blind men, “Have mercy on us, Son of David” or “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” has-been renewed in the traditional prayer to Jesus known as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”8 Healing infirmities or forgiving sins, Jesus always responds to a prayer offered in faith: “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
St. Augustine wonderfully summarizes the three dimensions of Jesus’ prayer: “He prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Therefore let us acknowledge our voice in him and his in us.”9
CCC 2667 This simple invocation of faith developed in the tradition of prayer under many forms in East and West. The most usual formulation, transmitted by the spiritual writers of the Sinai, Syria, and Mt. Athos, is the invocation, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners.” It combines the Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 with the cry of the publican and the blind men begging for light.10 By it the heart is opened to human wretchedness and the Savior’s mercy.
1 cf. Jn 5:36; 10:25, 38.
2 Cf. Mk 5:25-34; 10:52; etc.
3 Cf. Jn 10:31-38.
4 Mt 11:6.
5 Cf. Jn 11:47-48; Mk 3:22.
6 Cf. Mk 1:40-41; 5:36; 7:29; Cf. Lk 23:39-43.
7 Cf. Mk 25; 5:28; Lk 7:37-38.
8 Mt 9:27, Mk 10:48.
9 St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 85, 1: PL 37, 1081; cf. GILH 7.
10 Cf. Mk 10:46-52; Lk 18:13.
Mission and Loosing Self
The encounter with the Word is a gift for us, too, which was given to us so that we might give it to others, freely, as we have received it. God made a choice… and we can only acknowledge in humility that we are unworthy messengers who do not proclaim ourselves but rather speak with a holy fear about something that is not ours but that comes from God. Only in this way can the missionary task be understood… The model for the missions is clearly prescribed in the way of the Apostles and of the early Church, especially in the commissioning discourses of Jesus. Missionary work requires, fors and foremost, being prepared for martyrdom, a willingness to lose oneself for the sake of the truth and for the sake of others. Only in this way does it become believable; again and again this has been the situation with the missions, and so it will always be. For only then do Christians raise the standard of primacy of the truth… The truth can and must have no other weapon but itself. Someone who believes has found in the truth the pearl of which he is ready to give everything, even himself. For he knows that he finds himself by losing himself, that only the grain of wheat that has died bears much fruit. Someone who can both believe and say, “We have found Love,” has to pass this gift on. He knows that in doing so he does no one violence, does not destroy anyone’s identity, does not disrupt cultures, but rather sets them free to realize their own great potential; he knows that he is fulfilling a responsibility.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
The Jesus Prayer
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God,
have mercy on me, a sinner.