Fr. Carola's St. Agnes homily
A. M. D. G.
Father Joseph Carola, S.J.
Sermon for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
10 Septebmer 2006, St. Agnes Catholic Church, St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Tradition ascribes to the Book of the Prophet Isaiah the venerable title ‘proto-Gospel’—the Gospel before the Gospel, as it were. For in the prophet we read of the virgin who will conceive a child who is to be called Emmanuel, God-with-us. We read of a child who is born for us, a son who is given, named Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). The prophet proclaims, “Our God is here.” He comes to save us (cf. Isaiah 35:4). As a result the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap and the mute speak.
Further on, Isaiah anguishes over the man of sorrows—“he [who] was wounded for our transgressions…bruised for our iniquities, upon [whom] was the chastisement that made us whole…by his strips—the prophet concludes—we are healed” (Isaiah 53:3). When the Evangelist, St. Mark, records the deaf man’s miraculous healing, he describes Jesus in Isaian terms. Jesus is the One who makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. Jesus is God-with-us, Emmanuel, the One who comes to save us.
For the Christian the continuity between the Old and New Testaments is immediately apparent. The Old Testament prophetically prepares the way for the New, and the New fulfills the longings of the Old. Jesus is Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. Read in the light of His passion, death and Resurrection, the Old Testament reveals Christ in every chapter and verse. Nonetheless, despite the continuity obvious to the eye of the Christian beholder, there is a radical discontinuity between the two Testaments.
While God’s Incarnation sheds clear light upon the Old Testament, revealing its previously unforeseen depths of meaning, the Old Testament taken solely on its own terms could never have anticipated the radically new and unmerited gift which God gives to mankind in giving us Himself in the Incarnation. Israel longed for her messiah anointed from above. But little did Israel expect that her messiah would be God Himself made man born of a woman. Christ Jesus is the God-man, fully divine and fully human in One Person. The Jews who came to believe in Jesus received the gift of faith to proclaim Him ‘Lord’, which is a divine title. But not all Jews acknowledged Him as their messiah, let alone their God made man. Even Christians over the ages have had to struggle to understand how the man Jesus is one in being with God the Father. It took the Church three centuries to articulate theologically her ancient Trinitarian faith in the One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It took another century for her to formulate doctrinally her constant faith in Jesus, true God and true man, of two natures, divine and human, without confusion yet without separation in One Person. Over the centuries of orthodoxy’s doctrinal unfolding, many heretics adhered erroneously to either one extreme position or another, either exalting Jesus’ divinity to the detriment of His humanity or insisting upon His humanity to the detriment of His divinity. Our Catholic faith professes the One Lord Jesus Christ consubstantial—that is, one in being—with the Father in His divinity and consubstantial with us in our humanity, fully embracing our human nature in all things but sin. Such is the mystery of God’s Incarnation which the New Testament reveals and the Old Testament mysteriously foreshadowed without explicitly proclaiming.
Today’s Gospel clearly reveals the God-man who labors among us for the sake of our salvation. Jesus’ humanity is the instrument of His divinity. With His hand He touches the deaf man’s ear and tongue, placing His own spittle in the other man’s mouth. Through spittle and touch he heals as only God can heal. Spittle has no power to loosen a man’s tongue, but God’s grace does. In the Incarnation God deigns to use our humanity—in the case of the Gospel’s miraculous healing, to use human spittle—in order to reveal Himself most fully and ultimately to work the great act of our Redemption by dying in His humanity upon the Cross for us.
The Christian faith and in particular the Catholic liturgy faithfully carry forward and proclaim our God’s Incarnation. The human reveals the divine. Created goods mediate our encounter with God the Creator. Sacred images of Jesus, His Mother and the saints, who are the living members of His Body, depict Christ’s humanity which is the sacred instrument of His divine revelation. Sacred music lifts our minds and hearts to God. The Word proclaimed cuts like a two-edged sword into the depths of our souls. We see the sacred and hear God speak. Incense stimulates our sense of smell which possesses the awesome power to recall deep memories, calling forth in the sacred liturgy our collective Christian memory of Christ’s passion, death and Resurrection which in the mystery of the Eucharist is no mere memory but indeed an eternally present reality. As did the deaf-mute so do we feel Christ’s touch upon our tongues. We taste Him in His Body and Blood. Christ, the God-man, comes to us in the Eucharist, shattering our deafness to hear His Word and loosening out tongues to proclaim His salvation.
In our Eucharistic encounter with the Incarnate Word, we are healed and sent forth. Jesus no longer orders us to tell no one of His deed (an order which, one must admit, the folk of the Decapolis felicitously disobeyed—O Felix Culpa! O Happy Fault!, we on their account unabashedly sing.) No, He no longer commands silence. Rather the Risen Christ commissions us now to go and make disciples of all nations. Ite, missa est. “Go,” the deacon dismisses us at the end of Mass, “you are sent.” You, who have fed upon Christ’s Body and Blood and in the feeding do indeed become what you receive—you are sent forth to be Christ’s incarnate presence in the world.
To that end Jesus has given us a new commandment: to love one another as He has loved us. Our baptismal vocation is to be Christ’s loving presence in the world. Sadly, personal sin impedes our love. Our sins make us deaf to God’s Word and confuse our speech. On this account we must first turn to Christ present without compromise in the Sacraments to find forgiveness for our sins, to be healed of all that separates us from Him so that more perfectly conformed to Christ by His grace we may be Christ for others who likewise stand in need of His mercy. The Gospel calls us to be particularly mindful of the poor, the neglected and the forgotten—the least of Christ’s brethren in whom He is especially found. In fact, my brothers and sisters, we are all Christ’s poor, for who of us is so self-sufficiently rich in goodness that he has no need of Christ’s saving grace? We are the deaf-mute whom Christ heals and who in the healing become Christ’s living members—who become Christ’s Body, the human instrument of His healing touch in a world which desperately stands in need of His mercy.
Behold the mystery which the prophet Isaiah foretold. Behold the mystery of the Incarnation. Behold the mystery of the Mass. Behold the mystery of our lives in Christ. Behold the evangelical mission to which Christ calls each one of us today.