The archbishop’s homily was offered at Rome’s Church of the Good Shepherd, Aug. 16, 2000, during World Youth Day.
The day’s readings were:
Ps 98 (97):1, 2-3a, 3b-4, 5-6
As we think about our readings today, let’s remember the theme of our catechesis this morning — Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Jesus is Emmanuel. Jesus is “God with us,” and He remains with us both in Scripture, which is the Word of God written down in human language, and in the Eucharist, which is the Word of God alive in the body and blood of our Lord.
Exactly 35 years ago — right here in Rome — the Pope called bishops together from all around the world for a great meeting. That meeting was the Second Vatican Council. And at that council, they reminded us that the mission of the Church is to do the work which Jesus gave to Peter when He said: If you love me Peter, feed my lambs, feed my sheep (see Jn 21:15-17). In other words, the Church exists to offer the bread of life to all the faithful “from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ” (DV, 21).
Scripture and the Eucharist go together. We can’t really separate them. They explain and complete each other. Scripture without the Eucharist is like a beautiful story without a living hero. And the Eucharist without Scripture is like a living hero without a story.
We need both Scripture and the Eucharist to grow as Christians. This is why we should never treat Mass as just another obligation. We don’t think of food and water as “obligations,” do we? Of course not. They give our bodies life. And so it is with the Mass. Together in the Mass, Scripture and the Eucharist give us life. Each of us has a hunger and a thirst for something more than this world can offer us. If we open our hearts and really participate, the Mass is the “one table” where Jesus Himself will satisfy our hunger and thirst.
So, how do these readings feed us today?
The first reading has two lessons. And the first lesson is pretty obvious, because we talked about it earlier this morning. The Letter to the Hebrews says, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days, He has spoken to us by a Son . . . “ (1:1-2). God is a good father. He teaches by example. In the Old Testament, God told us about the road to eternal life by the witness of holy men and women like Isaiah and Ruth. In the New Testament, He shows us the road to eternal life by becoming one of us in His son, Jesus Christ.
Here’s the second lesson. The same reading from Hebrews also says that Jesus “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of His nature . . .” (1:3). That’s not so surprising, is it? A son usually reminds us of his father. But there’s more. Jesus is God, but He’s also a man. When God became man — when Jesus was born of Mary — human nature was stamped with the glory of God. Each of us, when we seek to follow Jesus, is stamped with that glory too.
And that’s not so surprising either. Remember what we said earlier? God doesn’t make ordinary people. He only makes heroes and saints. He made you to be stamped with His glory. Your home isn’t here. Your home is heaven. The only thing blocking the way is our sins. And to set us free from those sins is the reason Jesus came into the world; lived and died for us; and then rose again from the dead.
Sin is an unpopular word these days. A lot of people will tell you that sin is an old-fashioned idea — that what we used to call “sin” is really just a social or mental problem, or even a matter of personal opinion. But ask yourselves a simple question: Who benefits when we stop believing in sin? I think we all know his name.
Scripture calls Satan “the Adversary” for a reason. Jesus called Satan the “father of lies” for a reason. When we stop believing in the reality of sin, the mission of Jesus makes no sense. The cross makes no sense. Jesus didn’t come into the world to give us a bunch of pious sayings. He came to save us from the power of Satan, to break the power of death by His sacrifice. Jesus came to restore us to life — no matter what it cost. If we stop believing that sin is real and that sin separates us from God — God who is the source of all life and love — then we become blind to our own redemption.
Today’s Psalm tells us to “ . . . sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things. His right hand and holy arm have gotten Him victory . . . Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth, break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” (98:1-2,4).
And listen again to the angel in today’s Gospel of Luke: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a savior who is Christ the Lord” (2:10-11).
Joy is a powerful word. Joy is not “contentment,” or “satisfaction,” or even “happiness.” Those are restful words. Joy is different. It’s explosive. It’s exhilarating. Joy is what a captive feels when someone sets him free. Joy is what a mother feels when she brings a beautiful new child into the world.
Joy is the message of the Psalm and the Gospel today. Joy is the message of the Great Jubilee. Our God has done marvelous things. God loves each of you so much — He longs for us and believes in us so much — that He sent us His only son to save us. So sing a new song — sing it with the example of your lives, beginning today. For truly, this is “good news of great joy” — the joy of new life, won by God’s victory over sin in Jesus Christ.
And Jesus Christ — as the theme song for this World Youth Day reminds us so beautifully — is “the Man of truth . . . the living word that makes us new and grows in our hearts.”
Printed with permission from the Archdiocese of Denver.