'We Ought to Lay Down Our Lives for Our Brothers'
The following is the homily delivered by Fr. Ken Dos Santos, MIC, rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, during the Vigil Mass Saturday, April 7:
Jesus says, "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came, not to call the righteous, but sinners."
In the Gospel passage this evening, taken from the Gospel of John, we hear about the triumph of all triumphs. We hear about the triumph of love and mercy over death and sin — the Resurrection of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We hear about the fact that Jesus, through His obedience to His Heavenly Father, offered His very life on the Cross in order that He bring about an end to sin and death, reconciling us with His Father in Heaven:
"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, Abba, Father! So you are no longer a slave, but a child — and if a child — then also an heir, through God."
And we know that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear in speaking about the obedience of the Son: "by this 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.' Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father. It is [this] love 'to the end' that confers on Christ's sacrifice its value as redemption and reparation, as atonement and satisfaction. He knew and loved us all when He offered His life. Now 'the love of Christ [moves and motivates us at our deepest levels] because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.' No man, not even the holiest, was ever able to take on Himself the sins of all men and offer Himself as a sacrifice for all. The existence in Christ of the Divine person of the Son who at once surpasses and embraces all human persons... constitutes Himself as the Head of all mankind, [and] makes possible His Redemptive Sacrifice for all."
Here we see that God sent His only Begotten Son that from all Eternity, through the loving Providence of God, man was to be redeemed: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through "Him, and — without Him nothing came to be. What came to be through Him was life, and this life — was the light of the human race — the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light — but came to testify to the light. The true light — which enlightens everyone — was coming into the world."
And we see that this fact, the fact that nothing is created without the Word. The Son of the Living God is the focus of paragraph 280 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Creation is the foundation of 'all God's saving plans' — the 'beginning of the history of salvation...' — that culminates in Christ. Conversely, the mystery of Christ casts conclusive light on the mystery of creation and reveals the end for which 'in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth:' from the beginning — God envisaged the glory of the new creation in Christ."
And if we have had the opportunity to read chapter 9 of the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we know that Isaiah gives us a beautiful image — that he prophesies of a light, of a people who have seen a great light, the people who live in the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali. Isaiah depicts this people as a people who dwell in a land of deep darkness. Yet we know that Isaiah goes on to say that it is this people, those who dwell in the land of gloom upon whom a light has shone. Isaiah is indeed referring to God, and he uses this analogy of light to speak about God, who is all light and all truth Himself. But all doubt should be dispelled from our minds, hearts, and souls about Whom Isaiah is speaking when we read only a few verses later: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder, and His name will be called 'Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father — Prince of Peace.'"
Here we must see that Isaiah was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write about the Only Begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ, He who is the Light of the World, approximately 700 years before Jesus took on flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
And so we should not be surprised that St. John the apostle and evangelist makes a connection between this light and what he has seen as a follower of Christ. He has seen with his own eyes the light of the world — Jesus Christ — the one who enables the blind to receive their sight, the lame to walk, lepers to be cleansed and the deaf to hear.
Do we truly understand what it must have been like to encounter someone who is completely without sin, someone who is purity itself? We have met many people over the course of our lives and some of them have been holy to be sure, yet not one of them was perfectly sinless. And if we look to creation, the analogy of light Isaiah chooses to speak about God, we indeed have a magnificent image.
However, at the same time, we must realize that light in this world is not seen perfectly through our eyes. It can be refracted and diminished, through particles in the air or through certain materials such as plastic or glass, so that our eyes receive less light. But we must understand that these materials do not affect the purity of the source. Just so, Jesus is God. He who exists outside of time. He is Divine and cannot be corrupted or diminished by this world. And it is He who is completely without corruption who willingly took on flesh not for His own sake, but rather for ours. Jesus, who owed no debt for sin because He is sinless, out of mercy and love for us, submitted His body to pain, suffering, and death.
This is pure love and mercy. He who is God Himself takes on flesh in the womb of a humble virgin and is born in a simple stable. God's providence allows for these humble beginnings. Jesus was not born into a rich and powerful family. And, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, was not born of this Virgin that He might serve Himself. He was not seeking riches nor looking to secure for Himself any earthly power over others. Instead, Jesus desires always to humble Himself, to serve and to heal others. To have mercy, to be mercy to those who are most in need.
There are many Gospel accounts that speak of the mercy of Christ within the four Gospels, but one in particular is the mercy Jesus shows to the paralytic who was brought to Him on a stretcher.
"Rise, pick up your mat, and walk." And this man did without a doubt rise, now fully capable of walking home. But was his physical healing the greater miracle? The friends of the paralyzed man brought him to Jesus because they had deep faith that Jesus would indeed heal him. In fact, the Gospel passage confirms that "when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, 'child, your sins are forgiven.'"
This is a key point worth considering. When Jesus is moved to heal this man — out of the foremost mercy and love for this man — Christ forgives the man his sins due to the profound faith these men have in Him. And here we must see that Jesus has mercy not just on the man who is paralyzed — forgiving the man his sins and completely healing him of his paralysis — but Jesus also allows these men of faith, men who are prone to weakness, concupiscence, and sin, to be instruments of His mercy, to intercede on behalf of their friend with Christ. It is through this relationship — through their openness to the love of God and His grace — that the lives of these simple men of faith are transformed in a powerful way, bringing them, as Christ always does closer to Himself.
And, this powerful fact should cut us to the heart and remind us of our responsibility to intercede on behalf of others to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ — in faith — trusting that the Lord will provide for all of those whom we lift up in prayer.
But we must see that when the scribes and Pharisees hear Jesus speak these words to the paralyzed man: "Child your sins are forgiven you." They are filled with fury and believe Jesus to be blaspheming, because, for them, only God can forgive sins. Because of their lack of faith, they are unable to fathom that Jesus is the Son of God, fully God and fully Man. Nevertheless, the fact that Jesus chooses to have mercy and forgive the man his sins first, confirms that the man has need of a spiritual healing as well as a physical healing and that Jesus places a priority on the man's spiritual healing.
Thus, when Christ speaks the words, "Child your sins are forgiven you," He has mercy also on the Pharisees and scribes — they who are hard of heart, they who refuse to open their hearts and take Him at His word. And it is for this reason that Christ asks them a question: "which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven' or to say, 'Rise and walk?'" Hearing these words, we could be tempted to think that it would be more difficult to heal this man of his physical deformities. However, Jesus is not merely uttering these words: "courage child your sins are forgiven." What He states here actually brings about the reality that man's sins are in all truth forgiven him.
In this regard, St. John Chrysostom, a father of the Church, gives us his guidance: "For to forgive sins is a very much greater act than to heal the body, greater in proportion — as the soul is greater than the body. For as paralysis is a disease of the body — even so — sin is a disease of the soul — but although this is the greater — it is not palpable — whereas the other although it be less — is manifest." In other words, Jesus out of the pure love and mercy He has for this man, heals him of his physical deformity. That, through this healing those who are present within the crowd, those who indeed have faith in Him, might have their faith strengthened, and in order that those who persist in their unbelief might see this miracle with their eyes, and believe with their hearts, minds, and souls — that Jesus, the Son of the Living God, really and truly has done something greater in forgiving the man his sins.
We have been truly blessed to have received this gift of God's mercy, this gift that was won for us at so great a price: the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior. Thus, we must have true gratitude for this gift. We must wholeheartedly internalize these words taken from the first letter of St. John, chapter 3: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope based on [Christ] makes himself pure as He is pure. Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness. You know that [Christ] was revealed to take away sins, and in Him there is no sin. No one who remains in Him sins — no one who sins has seen Him or known Him.
Children, let no one deceive you. The person who acts in righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is begotten by God commits sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot sin because he is begotten by God. In this way, the children of God and the children of the devil are made plain; no one who fails to act in righteousness belongs to God; nor anyone who does not love his brother. Whoever does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life remaining in him.
The way we came to know love was that He laid down His life for us so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.