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Sunday February 25, 2018
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The Spirit of the Lord

Homily for Chrism Mass 2017 at St. Paul Cathedral Yakima

(Haz clic aquí para leer en español)

Isaiah 61:1-3a, 6a 8b-9; Revelation 1:5-8; Luke 4:16-21

Most Reverend Joseph J. Tyson, Bishop of Yakima 

(Image: Bishop Tyson blesses the Oil of Chrism Thursday, April 4, 2017 at St. Paul Cathedral)

Peace be with you!  Jesus speaks a few very key and very disruptive words when he opens the scroll at Capernaum in tonight’s Gospel from St. Luke: “The Spirit of the Lord.” Why these words?

First, Jesus is not only citing our opening reading from Isaiah 61 but – like the prophet Isaiah himself – Jesus is hearkening back to Exodus 19 where Moses leads his people up Mount Sinai and where the “Spirit” makes this people in their exodus from Egypt “chosen” while all others are – in the words of Exodus 19 – “non- peoples.”

Thus, in proclaiming the “Spirit of the Lord” as his opening lines in the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus embodies in himself the new covenant that brings forth a shockingly new order resulting in “…glad tidings to the poor…liberty to captives...” and, “…sight to the blind.”

But even more, the evangelist St. Luke deliberately places this “Spirit of the Lord” phrase not simply at the public ministry of Jesus, but also at the beginning of the Church.  Note well: In his next collection from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke specifically begins the Pentecost experience with the Church’s birth with “the Spirit of the Lord.” And it is this “Spirit” in Acts 2:1-11 that allows all the peoples to each hear the Gospel proclaimed in their own language. Thus with the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost the “non-peoples” of Exodus 19 suddenly stand at the center of Christ’s message and become the Church – the People of God.

“The Spirit of the Lord…” In the Gospel of Luke, the antecedents of this life-changing reversal can be heard in the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for it is her words that give us the first hint of the disruptive way earthly thrones and powers will be challenged by the message of her Son, Jesus Christ: “…my spirit rejoices in God my savior because he has done great things for us…he has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty…”

“The Spirit of the Lord…” those are words of the holy sacrifice of the Mass. Some years ago, lecturer and spiritual writer Gil Bailie wrote an arresting book titled, “Violence Unveiled.” Citing the research and scholarship of René Girard, Gil Bailie notes the way social order is maintained through the “scapegoat” mechanism.

Simply put, his thesis is this: We find “deserving victims” to blame, placing our resentments and rivalries upon them and, in doing so, create a false unity and a fake communion among the masses. But then Gil Bailie goes on to suggest that this is precisely why the death of Jesus is so destabilizing. With the crucifixion of Jesus, we learn for the first time that the sacrificial victim is innocent. As the centurion notes in the Gospel of St. Luke: “Surely an innocent man died.”

Indeed as priests we speak of the unique and singular sacrifice of Jesus – innocent and without sin – because Jesus died once and for all across all time and history. The sacrifice of the Mass literally re-members us back to that one sacrifice of Jesus Christ at Calvary.

The difficulty is not that the death of Jesus failed to be salvific. The difficulty is that we act like it never happened. We continue with our gang-banging and our violence. We continue with our gossip and our chismes. We continue through our criticism and our harsh language. We continue through our theatrical attention to the political blood sport of the 24/7 news-cycle. We continue through our silent complicity and our lack of resistance to the denigrating language so prominent in public discourse about immigrants, refugees and migrants. We permit today’s blood sacrifices by allowing ourselves to be divided as “red” people and “blue” people, “deplorables” and “outsiders” creating competing tribes eager for a new and modern blood sacrifice.

Remember the Greek word for devil – “diablos” – comes from the root verb “to divide.” One of the reasons the celebration of the Eucharist is the most important act we do for our people and ourselves is precisely because we replace the “diabolical” spirit of the age with uniting “The Spirit of the Lord.” Rather than participating in the ongoing blood sport of our world, we place on the paten beside the bread and wine all of our violent tendencies: our desire for revenge, our resentments, our emotional push to get even with our enemies. We offer these up as a single bloodless sacrifice because this is what brings salvation for ourselves and for those we are ordained to serve.

Brothers, that’s the power of the Eucharist! When we open for our people the disruption of earthly powers inherent in the bloodless sacrifice of the Mass we bring the Church to life for them!  When we refuse to cave to the lies, distortions and fears generated by the powers and principalities of our world today we bring the Church to life anew.

Why? Because of these few words: “The Spirit of the Lord…”  “The Spirit of the Lord…” is upon you – brothers – to bring “…glad tidings to the poor…liberty to captives...” and, “…sight to the blind.” May God strengthen each of us in this great mission!  Peace be with you!