FEBRUARY 19, 2006, 7TH SUNDAY- HOMILY: IS 43:18-25; 2COR 1:18-22; MARK 2:1-12
WHO CAN FORGIVE SINS EXCEPT GOD ALONE? Surely, the truth that all the rest of our Catholic faith depends is that Jesus is the Word of God made man. He is, as we will proclaim again in a few moments when we recite the Creed, of one substance with the Father. There is but one God, yet three divine persons, equally sharing a single, substantial, divine nature. In todayís Gospel it is the hostile, critical audience who witness here to our Lordís divinity as they affirm that in claiming the power to forgive sin he is arrogating to himself a divine prerogative. In response, he reinforces this claim by stating explicitly that he, the Son of Man, has power to forgive sin, and provides striking proof by te miraculous healing of this paralytic man.
Of course, our Lord was keenly conscious of the fact that there is no empirical proof, strictly speaking, of his true personal identity. The evidence for faith is moral, not based on sense perception or even on reason, though it is compatible with both. At bottom such belief is accessible only to faith. And faith is a choice made under the influence of grace. The same holds true for all the articles of faith that are founded on this belief that Jesus exercises divine power because he is himself divine and has received this power from the Father from all eternity. The converse also holds: reason and sense perception can never disprove the mysteries of faith; in short, the acquiescence of belief is a transcendent commitment, arising in God himself and resting on no other ultimate evidence than the truthfulness, the intrinsic evidence supplied by the Divine Person of the Spirit of God. There are many supporting reasons for making the choice to believe, but they are all accessory, however helpful in preparing the way.
Does not Isaiah, in todayís first reading, point in this direction of the ultimately transcendent nature of belief when he writes: "Thus says the Lord: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" The point is they did not perceive it; it was new in a way that surpassed their manner of looking at life and events. In the end, those to whom God sent his prophets did not recognize the new thing that appeared in His Son, even when he provided accessory proof as in this instance of the spectacular healing.
Rightly to accept our Lord, we must dispose our heart by striving to enter into his way of viewing life and evaluating the manifold things of this world. This way of looking at life and of setting our priorities is the beginning of the New Thing that comes from God; St Paul refers to this manner of perceiving and evaluating the world we live in. We have just heard him tell the Corinthians that their faith is built on Godís fidelity and power. "As God keeps His word", he writes, "I declare that my word to you is not "yes" one minute and "no" the next ... God is the one who firmly establishes us along with you in Christ; it is He who anointed us and has sealed us, thereby depositing the first payment, the Spirit, in our hearts."
Repeatedly our Lord made the same experience that Isaiah had in speaking for God to His people. It is not surprising, then, that he is reported more than once to have cited the prophets words identifying the source of their refusal:
I speak to them in parables because seeing they do not see and hearing they hear not, nor do they have understanding. And so the saying of Isaiah the prophet is fulfilled in them: "Hear with your hearing and understand not, and see while looking and know nothing for the hear of this people has been hardened, their ears hard of hearing, their eyes are closed lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and convert themselves and I should heal them.(Mt 13:14; see also Mark 8:18ff).
The great mystery of grace is enacted daily in the lives of all persons. We are invited today, every day, so to live as we go about our affairs and meet out our responsibilities in such a way as to become children of the New Creation that God works within the world, and most of all in the Church. There is a way of walking before God as we engage in encounters with others and involve our self with activities so that increasingly we are able to discern Godís presence in and through them. This way of conducting our self requires attentiveness and a certain renunciation of too sensible a satisfaction, and presupposes time and effort spent in holy reading and prayer. The result of such a program is the gradual inner sharpening of our spiritual senses and that purity of heart which alone can see God in his creation and in his creatures. It is to give us these graces that God sent his Son among us and revealed himself in the light shining on the face of his risen Son, the Lord of glory.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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