Friday, January 18, 2008

Behold the Lamb of God

This oil painting is titled Ecce Agnus Dei (1464). The painter was Dieric Bouts the Elder (ca. 1415-1475) of the Netherlands. It can be found in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, Germany.
John the Baptist points out Jesus by saying “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The lamb is a symbol of Israel's redemption from slavery in Egypt.

Because Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go, God sent a tenth plague that was the last and worst than all the rest. An angel of the Lord would take the life of the first born son of every household. The Israelites were told to slay a spotless, male lamb and to smear they blood on their doors. The angel of the Lord would pass over all the houses whose doors were marked with the blood of the lamb.

The Passover lamb prefigures Christ, the true Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world.

In Isaiah 53, it speaks of the future Messiah as a suffering servant who would be pierced for our offenses and crushed for our sins.

Isaiah says:

7. Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a
lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.

11. 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.

12. Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; And he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.
The Book of Revelation portrays Christ as the Lamb who was slain, but who has defeated death and is clothed with glory in heaven surrounded by the angels and saints who worship Him as God. Jesus is called the Lamb of God 28 times in the Book of Revelation. Revelation 5, 6 says “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing."

In the Eucharist we commemorate Christ’s victory over death. The Eucharist is a representation of the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary. In each Mass Christ is both victim and priest. He does not die again. He offers himself to the father in a victorious and unbloody way, thus applying the fruits of that sacrifice to our time today. We participate through our prayers and offering ourselves together to God with the priest. This is the real value of the Mass. Also, if we are properly disposed, we receive Jesus, the Lamb of God in Holy Communion.
The Eucharist teaches us the meaning of love. As Christ gave himself up in sacrifice for us as the innocent Lamb of God, so also we are called to make sacrifices for God and others.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that one of the effects of a worthy Eucharist is that it commits us to the poor. To receive Jesus worthily, we must also recognize him in the poorest among us.

The Eucharist commits us to the poor. To receive in truth the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us, we must recognize Christ in the poorest, his brethren.
St. John Chrysostom in his homily chastised the rich of his day who excluded the poor from their Eucharistic banquets:

You have tasted the Blood of the Lord, yet you do not recognize your brother,. . . . You dishonor this table when you do not judge worthy of sharing your food judged worthy to take part in this meal. . . . God freed you from all your sins and invited you here, but you have not become more merciful.
I believe the poorest among us today are our unborn brothers and sisters who are threatened by abortion and the elderly, sick and handicapped threatened by euthanasia. Pope Paul VI spoke of contraception, sterilization and abortion as limiting the number of guests invited to the banquet of life.

In instituting the Eucharist, Christ said “This is my Body, given up for you.” Those who defend abortion say the same words, but with the opposite meaning. They say “This is my body. I’ll do what I want with it, even if the child living inside of me must die.”

This attitude has led to what Pope John Paul II called a ‘culture of death’. This was a constant theme of his pontificate, a clash that was occurring in our society between “a culture that affirms, cherishes, and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings – the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered ‘unuseful’ – to be outside the boundaries of legal protection.”

The greatest symptom of the ‘culture of death’ is legalized abortion. Since the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973 there have been over 48 million abortions. In fact, today in the United Sates one out of every five pregnancies ends in abortion. Today there are new attacks on human life such as embryonic stem cell research that purports to give us cures at the cost of killing a living human embryo. All of us at one time passed through the embryonic stage. At the moment of fertilization, you don’t have a potential human being, but a human being with great potential. There are alternatives to embryonic stem cell research that don’t involve killing. Privately funded embryonic stem cell research has gone on for years and no cures have been found. There have been successful cures and treatments with the use of adult stem cells that can be obtained without killing anyone, through bone marrow, skin, fat, umbilical cords, placentas and most recently through amniotic fluid.

A lack of respect for life in its' beginning stages has also led to a lack of respect for life in its' end stages. Today we here more calls for euthanasia or ‘mercy killing’. What Pope John Paul II called ‘a false mercy. In 1997, Oregon became the first state to legalize physician assisted suicide. This has put the poor, minorities, frail, depressed, those who lack insurance and those who could be branded as an economic liability most at risk. While Oregon will pay to help a person to commit suicide they won’t pay for adequate pain management, living assistance or some life saving treatments.

The Church does make a distinction between extraordinary care. We always have a right to refuse overzealous treatment; treatment which is merely death delaying rather than life sustaining, but ordinary care which is a basic right of every human being. If food and water are withdrawn, a person dies not from their illness, but from a cause that we have introduced starvation and dehydration.

In 1994 Mother Teresa spoke of the harm abortion has done to America when she said "America needs no words from me to see how your decision in Roe v. Wade has deformed a great nation. The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships. It has aggravated the derogation of the father's role in an increasingly fatherless society. It has portrayed the greatest of gifts -- a child -- as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters"

“And, in granting this unconscionable power, it has exposed many women to unjust and selfish demands from their husbands or other sexual partners. Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign."

It was both Pope John Paul II’s and Mother Teresa’s hope, that Americans of every race, ethnic group, economic condition and creed would resist the culture of death and choose to stand steadfastly on the side of life. One crucial element of that choice is that the nation continues to honor and revere the family as the basic unit of society.

Sometimes we might feel that we're powerless to overcome the culture of death, but I don't believe that's true. All of us can do something. Our readings today remind us of our call to holiness and our vocation to be light to the nations…baptized as sons and daughters of God. We are called to be a light, a beacon, to every people, primarily by the way we live, both in our private lives and in the way we conduct our activities and shape our policies as a Church and as a society.

In your bulletins today you will find a pamphlet from Priests for Life entitled You Can Save Someone's Life Today It will give you practical suggestions that you can use to put an end to the tragedy of abortion in our nation. We know we have to do more than simply say that abortion is wrong. We have to help women. So at the top of the page we list five different pregnancy resource hotline numbers where women can call and get the help that they need before and after they give birth for as long as they need it. These resource centers provide food, clothing, shelter, medical help, legal help, whatever they might need in order to bring their baby to term. By passing on these numbers to a woman in need, you truly can help to save a life. There is also information on adoption, a loving alternative to abortion.

We also promote post-abortion healing and reconciliation. We don’t condemn people. We want to extend a helping hand. We promote Project Rachel - the post-abortion healing ministry of the Catholic Church and Rachel's Vineyard retreats in order to help both men and women who have been involved in abortions to find healing and peace.

The Church also teaches us that voting is not only our right, it is our duty and we have a duty to use our vote to advance the cause of life, especially the cause of God's children who are unborn disabled or are otherwise vulnerable.

In his Apostolic Exhortation on the Family Pope John Paul II wrote:

The social role of families is called to find expression in political intervention; Families should be the first to take steps that the laws and institutions of the State not only do not offend but support and positively defend the rights and duties of the family. Along these lines families should be aware of being protagonists of what is known as family politics. And assume responsibility for transforming society.
Of course, we must be concerned with a range of issues when we cast our vote, but if the fundamental right to life is not protected al, all other rights are meaningless.

Sometimes people will say that they are personally opposed to abortion, but think others should have a choice. They say they don't want to impose their morality on others. They tell us they are not pro-abortion but "pro-choice." They say the government should have nothing to do with this very personal decision. Before the Civil War many people made a similar argument about slavery. People said things like "Personally, I'm opposed to slavery. I would never own one myself, but I don't want to impose my morality on anyone else. A person should have a right to choose whether or not to own slaves. I don't think the government should be involved." We see through the fallacy of that argument very easily today. The arguments are equally fallacious when they are applied to abortion.

When life begins is not a matter of faith. We can show that life begins at the moment of fertilization through science. At the moment of fertilization, you have a separate unique human being with a different genetic structure than either the father or the mother. At that moment the sex, eye color, skin color, shoe size, intelligence is all determined by the genetic code in the forty-six human chromosomes. Also, the sanctity of life ethic is not a religious doctrine, but the basic principle upon which this nation was founded. The American Bishops remind us "Real pluralism depends on people of conviction struggling vigorously to advance their beliefs by every ethical and legal means at their disposal."

I would now like to close with a poem that was written by a grandmother that I met in Arizona on one of my trips for Priests For Life who is writing about the loss of her own little granddaughter from an abortion.

I hope you will join with me in praying for an end to abortion and for the protection of all human life. The Lamb of God, through his suffering conquered death and won for us the gift of eternal life. He calls each of us to make sacrifices, to use our unique talents and gifts for the service of God and his Church. We can work toward bringing about a more just society and build a culture of life in which each and every human being will be welcomed, protected, nurtured and loved from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.

Pope Benedict XVI Holy Thursday Homily 2007

Isaiah 53

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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