Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
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.
Do you have anyone in your life with whom you can speak openly and frankly without fear that your words will be misunderstood, or will offend, or will be used against you?
If the answer is “no,” then you are certainly not alone. Even though we may have close relationships and friendships even, it is often the case that our freedom to express our true feelings is not complete, and that we have to be careful, sometimes very careful, of what we say.
This is simply because both sides of these relationships are occupied by limited, sinful, fallen human beings. Even when we love someone else very much, our fears and self-image may prevent us from hearing him peacefully when he has things to say or thoughts or deeds to reveal that could stir up those fears and illusions. Or, the other may be unable to hear our frank take on what he has said. This can lead, at best, to a kind of truce between friends or lovers, because neither side can bear the whole truth in tranquility.
There has to be a better way. The beloved apostle St. John tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). This principle underlies the marvelous text we hear today from the magnificent tones of the epistle to the Hebrews. This is really good news for us—a real gospel. And like all gospel truths it also provides us with a high but consoling standard against which to measure our own behavior.
In our relationship with the Savior, one that began before we even knew it (for as St. Paul says, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”), there is a weak, fallen being, subject to self-deception on the one side, but a fearless, loving man who is God on the other side; one who took upon himself every weakness of ours, except those which require sinful inclinations. Jesus knows full well how weak we are and how numerous are our defects, especially those not fully deliberate—the ones we developed before we even knew what was happening to us in childhood and youth. He is able to sympathize with our weakness, and so, as the apostolic author tells, us we can confidently approach him on his throne of grace to receive mercy.
This “confidently,” so translated today, is literally in the Greek “with frankness” or “with open speech"; that is, we can boldly approach him and pour out all our feelings and inclinations, impressions and experiences, all our wildest fears and deepest suspicions, all our shameful thoughts or deeds, and he will be able, as we say, to “take it.” In fact, the eternal Son of God came down to earth and took our nature precisely to heal of all this, so he approaches it all unflinching, overcoming fear so that he may heal us with his love.
When you pray, you should not speak to Our Lord as though he were just another human being, albeit a more powerful one, from whom you hope to receive some favor, like someone in business or politics. Rather you should approach him with confident speech, laying out your whole case, the good, the bad and the ugly, knowing that he will be able to weigh everything by the only standard that matters to him: his love for us, which goes before, accompanies, and brings to fulfillment all his work in us.
All this shows that Our Lord’s perfect sinlessness is the very thing that gives him and us the freedom to relate so openly and confidently. He is not touchy and demanding; he desires only our good. When you offend him, his only thought is not of himself and his own dignity but of how to deliver you from the damage you do yourself by resisting the good gifts he gives you as your Lord. We should never think that Jesus’ sinlessness separates us from him; rather it separates him and us from evil.
Go to confession with this attitude and you will make progress. The priest is there and he is not shocked or judgmental (unless he is a poor modernist who does not like to hear confessions: pray for the priests who are lacking in faith and patience; but that’s another homily for another congregation!). The priest hears your sins with the mind of Christ and wants to bring you healing and encouragement. Let’s face it—if we treated everyone with the same mindset we have when going to confession, we would never offend against charity and others could also “approach the throne of grace” in us, since the Savior would able to work in us fully.
The month of October is dedicated popularly to the devotion of the holy rosary. The Venerable Pius XII chose today’s text as the introit or entrance antiphon for the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, so closely allied with the rosary by Our Lady at Fatima: “Let us confidently approach the throne of grace.”
The farther we are from sin, the more reliable we are as friends and advocates. Nothing is farther from the Christian spirit, nothing is farther from the mind of Our Lady and the saints, than a demanding and judging perfectionism. Such an attitude, especially in the devout, turns people away from Jesus rather than drawing them closer to him. Try to be a patient listener; don’t try to justify yourself or jump to critique or correct the one who is unburdening his heart to you; just wait in love and seek to reassure that he will find full sympathy before our great High Priest.