Archive for the ‘Isaiah’ Category

Our Thrice Holy God — 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

March 3, 2013

The ancient Hebrews did not have a word that means “very.” To describe something or someone as “very beautiful” they would use the word twice, “It is beautiful, beautiful.” And to describe something or someone as “the most beautiful” they repeated the word three times: “She is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.” This is the reason Isaiah hears the angels saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.” The Lord is the most holy, sacred, pure, and perfect.

It can feel overwhelming to be in the presence of the holy Lord. Isaiah exclaimed, “Woe is me, I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” Peter says, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinner!” This Wednesday we begin another season of Lent, because we are sinners and God is holy. Yet, the Lord purifies Isaiah with the ember from the altar. And Jesus reassures Peter, “Do not fear.” St. Paul says: “I am unworthy to be called an apostle. However, by the grace of God I am what I am”.

God is not very concerned about where we have been. God is more concerned about where we are going. Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. Jesus says to you, “Be not afraid.” No matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve done, God can do great things with Jesus Christ in you.

Los antiguos hebreos no tenían una palabra que significa “muy”. Para describir algo o alguien como “muy hermoso” usarían la palabra dos veces, “Es hermoso, hermoso”. Y para describir algo o alguien como “la más hermosa”, repitieron la palabra tres veces: “Es hermosa, hermosa, hermosa.” Esta es la razón Isaías oye a los ángeles diciendo: “Santo, santo, santo es el Señor”. El Señor es el más santo, puro sagrado y perfecto.

Esto puede ser abrumador para estar en la presencia del Señor santo. Isaías exclamó: “¡Ay de mí, estoy perdido, porque soy un hombre de labios impuros”! Pedro dice: “Apártate de mí, Señor, porque soy un pecador!” Somos pecadores y Dios es santo. Este miércoles comenzar otro tiempo de Cuaresma, porque somos pecadores y Dios es santo. Sin embargo, el Señor purifica Isaías con la brasa del altar. Y Jesús tranquiliza a Pedro: “No temas”. San   Pablo dice: “Soy indigno de llamarme apostól. Sin embargo, por la gracia de Dios, soy lo que soy”.

Dios no está muy preocupado acerca de dónde hemos estado. Dios está más preocupado por dónde vamos. Cada santo tiene un pasado y todo pecador tiene un futuro. Jesús te dice: “No temas.” No importa dónde has estado, no importa lo que has hecho, Dios puede hacer grandes cosas con Jesús Cristo en ti.

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The Lamb of God — 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

January 16, 2011

When John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him he declares, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Why does John say that? How is Jesus like a lamb? Under the Old Covenant, animal sacrifices were offered for the forgiveness of sins.  The symbolism was that the animal, typically an unblemished lamb, was dying in place of the sinner who offered it. Jesus, like an obedient sheep that follows its master’s voice, does His Father’s will and takes our place in the sacrifice that truly forgives our sins. This is why Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

John the Baptist goes on to say, “He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” Indeed, Jesus existed before the universe itself. Through Him, all things were made, and all things that were made to point to Christ. For this reason, it is not so much that Jesus resembles the lambs of Old Covenant sacrifices. Instead, God established the ritual of sacrificing lambs for the forgiveness of sins in order to point to Christ.

Jesus is born in the age of the New Testament, but throughout the entire Old Testament the Holy Spirit has spoken through the prophets about Him. For example, our first reading from the book of Isaiah, written several centuries before Christ, is just one of hundreds and hundreds of passages pointing to Him. But, before we look at it again, a little background: Jacob was Abraham’s grandson. Jacob was renamed “Israel” by God and fathered twelve sons. From these twelve sons descended the twelve tribes of Israel. This is why the names “Jacob” and “Israel” can be interchangeable, and can refer to one person or many.

In Isaiah, the prophet writes, “The Lord said to me: You are my servant, Israel, through whom I show my glory.” To whom is God speaking here? Who is the servant whom God formed in the womb; the prophet himself, God’s faithful people, or Jesus Christ? There is truth to each of these interpretations, but Jesus shines especially through. Isaiah continues:

“It is too little, the Lord says, for you to be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and restore the survivors of Israel; I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus is the one who brings salvation and the resurrection not only to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but for all the nations on earth, bringing His light to Gentiles like you and I.  For another example, consider today’s psalm, written by King David 1,000 years before Christ. Hear these words again as coming from Jesus’ own lips:

Sacrifice or offering you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”

“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
to do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”

I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O Lord, know.

I have waited, waited for the Lord,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.

I suspect that these words had a personal meaning to David when he composed them, and the fortieth psalm has been prayed in a personal way by God’s faithful people ever since, but these words apply especially to the person and life of Christ. After preaching God’s word before crowds of thousands in the time of His ministry and obediently coming to the cross at its end, after crying out for His Father to save Him and waiting three days in the tomb, the resurrection has put a new song in Jesus’ mouth, a new hymn of praise to our Father.

The point is this: the Old Testament is not a dead letter, or a merely historical book. The passages of the Old Testament meant something historically to the people who wrote them, but those men were not the only authors—the Holy Spirit was writing, too. The Spirit was writing for all generations of God’s faithful people, including you and I today. The Spirit was also revealing and prophetically pointing to the person and life of Jesus Christ.

St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” So when you hear the Old Testament proclaimed at Mass, and read the Bible on your own, look for the meaning it had in its historical context, look for the spiritual meaning it has for us today, and look for Jesus, because you can find Him there, and get to know Him better.

Approaching God — 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

February 11, 2010

In today’s first reading the prophet Isaiah hears the angels praising God at the temple with words like those we proclaim at every Mass: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!”

What do these words mean?  First, the Jews did not have adverbs for “very,” “most,” or “infinitely” in Hebrew, so if they wanted to say something was very heavy they would call it “heavy, heavy.”  If they wanted to say something was most heavy or (if it were possible) infinitely heavy they would call it “heavy, heavy, heavy.”  So when Isaiah hears the angels call God “holy, holy, holy,” they are praising His perfection, transcendence, and goodness to the highest degree.

Why is God called “the LORD of hosts?” A host is an army, or a large group of persons. In this case, God’s army of angelic  persons is referred to. Our God is holy and wields unsurpassed power. The earth is filled with his glory.

Isaiah behold this sight and becomes very afraid. “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” In the Old Testament people thought that no human being could look upon God and live.

Then an angel, one of the seraphim, fly down, takes an ember with tongs from the altar (for the Jews sacrificed animals as burnt-offerings at the temple) and touches Isaiah’s mouth. “See,” the angel says, “now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, your sin purged.” God asks whom He can send to be His prophet, and now Isaiah has the courage to say “Here I am, send me!”

Imagine if, at communion time, people would line up and come before the priest to have a red hot coal touched to their lips or tongue? Priest: “The holiness of God.” Communicant: “Amen… Ou!” I imagine the communion line would be much shorter.

This is the bread that we will be offering at this Mass to become the real body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. It’s flat because it unleavened, just like the bread at the Jewish Passover meal and as at Jesus’ Last Supper.  Leaven, or yeast, is bacteria which grows and makes our bread fluffy. The Jews were to keep leaven, which symbolized sin, out of their Passover bread.

Like all of the other sacraments, the Lord’s choice to use bread has symbolic meaning.  Take baptism, for example: water cleanses us and gives us life.  Similarly, bread gives us life and becomes one with us. No wonder Jesus chose it to be his symbol for the Eucharist. The very use of bread invites us to receive him.  The symbol of bread speaks, “Come, do not be afraid. I am here to be received by you and to become one with you.” We tend to forget what an unprecedented privilege this is.

In the Old Covenant, Jews could always pray to God, for ‘all the earth was filled with his glory,’ but they you wanted to go where the Lord was most present on earth they had to go to one place, the temple in Jerusalem.  And even when they got there they did not enter in where the Lord was most present, the Holy of Holies, where only the high priest would go, and only once a year at that. The faithful would worship in the courts outside the temple.  It would be like us coming to church today to stand and pray from the parking lot. Instead, we have the privilege to stand and worship the Lord here in His sanctuary, and not only do we see the Most Holy Lord with our own eyes, but we actually receive Him in the Most Holy Sacrament.

The wonder and the privilege and the awe of this new intimacy with God at the Eucharist could not have been lost upon the early Christians, who were converts from Judaism. Do we approach the Lord with a healthy fear of the Lord, which is called the beginning to wisdom? This fear is not terror, which would cause us to hide ourselves from the Lord. It is a reverence which honors the Giver who is the Gift.

We all sin from week to week, but if our sins are minor, or venial, then Jesus wants us to approach Him in the Eucharist. Receiving this sacrament with contrition forgives our venial sins. On the other hand, if we are aware of serious, or grave sins on our souls, then Jesus wants us to approach Him in another sacrament first, the sacrament of confession, or reconciliation.

In the second reading we heard St. Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, reminding them of what he ‘handed on to them as of first importance as he had also received it.’ Later in the letter he reminds them of something else in a similar way:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment…”

Before we approach the Eucharist let us examine ourselves first, and if we have serious unconfessed sins, from even years ago, let us present ourselves for Jesus’ needed forgiveness in confession first. Ask yourself, do I care more about others’ opinions of me, or about the opinion of the Lord (who sees all things)?

Whenever we come to Christ in the Eucharist let us approach Him as the earliest Christians did, with wonder, awe, and holy fear. Let us have that reverence which honors the Giver who gives Himself as a Gift to us.