This mosaic of Christ the Redeemer revealing His pierced Side adorns the apse of one of my favourite Roman churches, Sant’Alfonso on the Via Merulana. Sant’Alfonso is also the shrine of the original miraculous icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help.
Twenty-First Sunday of the Year C
Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13
The Salvation of God
Today, the Word of God shocks us out of any kind of narrowness. The salvation of God will not be shrunken, diminished, limited, or measured by men. People have never been comfortable with the inclusiveness of God. The arms of God are not only divinely comforting; they are frightening in their immensity, disconcerting in their embrace.
A Procession of Return
In the First Reading Isaiah describes an immense procession of return to Jerusalem: a grand liturgy of conversion and of convergence. “They shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them” (Is 66:18-19). The return to Jerusalem signifies a return to God; that is conversion. The reunion of all peoples in Jerusalem signifies the coming together of all peoples in Christ; that is convergence.
Missionaries and Priests
Isaiah announces that missionaries, witnesses to the glory of God and “brethren” to the Chosen People, will be sent forth to the most distant lands. God even announces that he intends to take priests from among the Gentiles, from among those who have no hereditary claim to the priestly office. “And some of them I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord” (Is 66:21). The excluded are included; the unchosen, chosen; those afar off, brought near.
The Divine Hospitality
In the Gospel, Our Lord explodes an exclusive and narrow vision of His Father’s hospitality. Those who have always assumed that they have, by right, a place inside, at the table, may find themselves outside, while those whom many considered outsiders, discover — to the scandal of some, and to the joy of others — that a place inside, at the table, has been reserved for them. This is the mystery of the Divine Hospitality.
The procession to His table, says Our Lord, will form from east and west, from north and south (Lk 13:29). The procession into the Kingdom of God will subvert the established order. First, last. Last, first. Outsiders, inside. Insiders, outside. The Eucharistic order of the kingdom of God is not the social order established by men. Those who would find a place in the Eucharistic order of the kingdom of God must allow their own sense of order to be subverted, inverted, converted, to a whole new way of seeing, of measuring, and of doing.
A Wideness in God’s Mercy
It is difficult for us who find security in what is narrow and small to enter into the wideness and immensity of God. Today’s Gospel reminds me of that magnificent nineteenth century hymn by the gifted English convert, Father Frederick William Faber:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heaven;
there is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment given.
There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.
For the love of God is broader
than the measure of man’s mind.
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make his love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify its strictness
with a zeal he will not own.
The Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews describes the discipline by which we enter into the immense dimensions of the love of Christ. Discipline, which is nothing else the life of the disciple and the expression of discipleship, is, sometimes, a painful stretching of our minds, hearts, and wills to the dimensions of the Cross. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11). Only one crucified by means of a humble perseverance in discipleship/discipline can meet the embrace of the Crucified and so pass, through His pierced side, into the hospitality of God.
Drawn to the Sacred Heart
The hospitality of God is higher and lower, deeper, wider, and broader than anything planned by men. The embrace of God, revealed in the outstretched arms of Jesus Crucified, and in His Sacred Heart pierced by the soldier’s lance, is universal: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32).
Through the Pierced Heart
The grand procession of conversion and of convergence announced by Isaiah is already fulfilled in the Most Holy Eucharist. The “sign among us” (Is 66:19) is the Cross, planted in the heart of the Church and made present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Mass, actualizing the mystery of the Cross, is the revelation of the hospitality of God. In every celebration of Holy Mass, Our Lord stretches out His hands again, even as He did on the wood of the Cross. In every celebration of Holy Mass, He draws us into the Kingdom through the narrow door of His pierced Heart.
Be converted, then, to the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. Live facing the open wound in His Sacred Side. Conversion to the Heart of Jesus leads, necessarily, to convergence at the Holy Table of His altar, and convergence at the Holy Table is a foretaste of heaven. Holy Mass is the inbreaking of a new order of things, a Eucharistic order that is the definitive undoing of the old order of sin and death. Convergence at the Holy Table is the encounter of the Pierced One: Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who, “seated upon the throne, says, ‘Behold, I make all things new’” (Ap 21:5).