These days I'm in West Brandywine, Pennsylvania giving a parish mission in conjunction with the 40 Hours of Eucharistic devotion that St. Peter's Church has right before Lent. I had actually been here a couple years ago when the Sisters of St. Mary of Providence, who run a nearby retreat house, drove by to show me the new church and the Pope John Paul II Elementary School. Over the weekend I've met all sorts of people who have a connection to Wisconsin, as well as Joseph who once worked in Cherry Creek, South Dakota, not far from the Sioux Spiritual Center where I worked from 1989-1995.
At the Sunday Masses this weekend, I pretty much said the following:
In the first reading from the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, God made a great promise: "See, I am doing something new!" Why did God do something new? Because what God had been doing to deal with sin and evil was not working. God had sent a flood to cleanse the earth of evil, but saving Noah and his family and various creatures in an ark. Then humanity turned again to sin. The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah became notoriously sinful and God sent fire to purify the earth of the evil that was in them. Sin continued. So God inspired the Jewish people to offer animal and grain sacrifices as a prayer that would bring down God's mercy. Yet sin continued and increased. Something new had to be done. A deeper healing of the human heart was necessary.
Jesus, the Son of God and Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, said "Yes" to God's plan to forgive sins and heal the human heart. In saying "Yes" to the Father, Jesus said "Yes" to humanity. Where the first humans said "No" to God, to God's plan, and to their humanity--striving to be gods, denying their humanity--Jesus said "Yes" to God's plan and to humanity. He embraced humanity to heal it. He became one with humanity, sharing its sorrows and joys.
Think for a moment about the joys of Jesus when he walked this earth. What gave him the greatest pleasure and joy? I think it was healing others. In last Sunday's gospel from the end of the first chapter of Mark, we see Jesus reaching into the isolation of a leper, touching him, and cleansing him of his disease. Imagine what that man experienced when his dead skin could suddenly feel that touch of Jesus. His face must have lit up with a big smile and he jumped to his feet. Jesus shared his joy with a smile bigger than the world. Healing people gave Jesus great pleasure.
But there was another kind of healing, a deeper healing, that gave Jesus even greater pleasure. We see that in today's gospel from the beginning of the second chapter of Mark. Jesus sees the faith of the persistent friends of a paralyzed man and says to that man: "Child, your sins are forgiven." No doubt the man was disappointed at these words. He probably didn't care too much about sins. He wanted to walk! But Jesus shows us his priorities, healing his soul first and then his body. For physical healings are temporary. The healed skin of the leper would one day turn to dust, as we will soon hear on Ash Wednesday. The limbs of the paralyzed man would one day become rigid in death. So it was more important for Jesus to heal the immortal part of people--their souls--than to heal their bodies, and this brought him, I think, the greatest pleasure.
It was for this that he came--to live our lives, share our sorrows and joys, suffer, die, and rise. In doing this, he said "Yes" to God's plan. He did something new. He forgave the sins of the world.
His sacrifice on the Cross now replaces all the animal and grain sacrifices (see Hebrews chapters 9 and 10). His sacrifice brought the deep healing that humanity needed. From the Cross, Jesus sent a new flood, not one that destroyed, but one that healed. This flood was the water and blood that St. John said gushed forth from the pierced side of Jesus (John 19:34).
The water represented Baptism which washes away sin. The blood represented the Eucharist which unites us to Christ and brings about the deep healing we need. During Eucharist devotions like 40 Hours we reflect on the great and, in Blessed John Paul II's words, "amazing" gift of the Eucharist. In every Mass Jesus makes present once again the new sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world. In Holy Communion we receive the food for eternal life, the very Body and Blood of Christ. He plants the seeds of eternity within us so that after we die, at the resurrection of the body, those seeds will bring forth new life. Truly God has done something new, something we could never have imagined.