The Church is bringing to conclusion the presentation of excerpts from the Letter to the Hebrews. Remember, the Letter to the Hebrews is a theological essay that presents the revelation of God in Christ as an event that we can see and participate in through temple worship. This temple worship is experienced in the Mass. What is the Mass? It is the participation of the Church in the worship of heaven, through this worship God reveals himself to humanity in Christ and humanity comes to participate, through Christ, in the divine life of God!
This is deep mysticism, true mysticism, mysticism through which we come to know realities of our Faith that exceed our ordinary expectations. The Mass is not just about us, an expression of culture, but gestures towards the supernatural and sets us on the path that leads to Christ.
The Letter to the Hebrews is heavy laden with ideas, ideas that might confound and confuse us, but we can gain insight into these ideas if we accept that what the Letter to the Hebrews presents in the form of ideas, the Mass presents to us in the form of ritual, symbol, and sacrament.
The ideas that the Letter to the Hebrews presents to our minds, we receive tangibly, sensually, concretely in the Mass.
But the Mass is not just mystical insight, it is also meant to engender in us practical action, and this action is not meant simply to be positive feelings, but a willingness to engage a unique way of life- and today’s excerpt from the Letter to the Hebrews presents some of the essential characteristics of this unique way of life. Kindness to strangers, care for the afflicted, advocacy on behalf of the persecuted, fidelity in marriage, detachment from the allure of wealth. These practices are not incidental to the Church’s worship and are integral to the Church’s unique way of life.
Participation in Christ in the Church’s worship manifests its true effects in the manner in which we live. The Faith of the Church is not merely an inner experience or cultural expression, it is a way of life.
Christ’s Gospel presents a tale of terror, detailing the evil machinations that worldly men and women contrived that lead to the murder of John the Baptist.
What is particularly sinister about these evil machinations is that they implicate a child, the daughter of Herodias, who is identified in the original Greek manuscript of this text, not as the tempting seductress of popular lore, but as a little girl, who is manipulated by her mother, and used as a means to the accomplishment of wicked ends. Herodias is willing to purchase the death of John the Baptist through the exploitation of her own daughter and the sale of her daughter’s innocence.
The insidious nature of human sinfulness is on full display in this story, indicating that through affliction of sin, wicked desires perpetuate themselves, and lead to the destruction of the innocent. John the Baptist, an innocent man is not the only victim here. Adults, who should model decency and integrity to a child, instead model cruelty and malice- and how quickly she learns from their example! It all culminates in violence and in death.
Thus, does the family of Herod, once one of the mightiest dynasties of the ancient world, come to utter ruin. Corrupting its children, the family of Herod assures its own destruction.
Catholic family life is meant to offer to children the antithesis of the dynamics that are displayed in the family of Herod. Catholic education, if it is true to the principles it is supposed to embody, is meant to instill in children the virtues of the Gospel, demonstrating to them that Christ offers to them a way of life that contradicts and subverts the worldly way of life that is exemplified by the selfishness and foolishness of people like Herod and Herodias.
But also, if Catholic family life and education are true to the Gospel, what will arise from them both are men and women like John the Baptist, men and women who will speak the truth, stand athwart the fallen powers of the world, and lead people to Jesus Christ- and they will do so, without fear of the loss of worldly comforts or prestige and at the risk to their own lives.