HOMILY FOR TUESDAY OF THE 5TH WEEK OF LENT.
THEME: THE MAKING OF SACRAMENTALS!
BY: Benedict Agbo (Rev Fr)
* Num 21: 4 – 9, Jn 8: 21 – 30.
Why do Catholics make holy images and use them in their worship of God when God said: ‘Do not make the carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or above ‘, Ex 20: 4? But before you judge us rashly, add verse 5: ‘ You shall not bow down to them or serve them ‘. So, the emphasis is on idolatry, not sculpture. Today’s 1st reading is one of those places God said: ‘Make a holy image of a serpent and set it up as a sign and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live’. Sacramentals are holy objects which serve as salvific signs /saving tokens, cf Wisdom 16: 6. But sacraments are sign realities. They contain what they signify. For instance, when Christ said: ‘Take this and eat, this is my body’, it is no longer a mere sign. It is treated as the body of Christ. It is venerated and adored. The crucifix, holy water, the rosary, Marian statues, the scapula, etc are mere sacramentals. They are never venerated. It is only once in a year – on Good Friday, when the crucifix is liturgically raised to the dignity of a sacrament – when the Eucharistic presence of Christ is overtaken by the ‘old rugged Cross’ – only that day can Catholics venerate the Cross of Christ. That’s the beauty of Catholic religion; Our Liturgy is crafted in such a way that it mirrors our faith completely. Raniero Cantalamasa, explaining why the Cross hangs in every Christian Church as the epicenter of Christian faith says that ‘The Cross is God’s powerful “no” to sin… It has been planted in the middle of the Church and the world and no one will ever be able to uproot it again or substitute it with other principles’.
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Christianity is not just a religion with an ethical code of conduct but a pilgrimage full of inconveniences. It is God’s people still following Christ, the new Moses in the roughest route to the Promised Land and it requires a focus on the Cross. Today, we are expected not just to look at the Cross but to carry our own portion of it. Marriages are breaking down because people fail to carry their own cross. The society is decaying, yet Christians are making noise all over the place like rolling stones gathering no moss, all because we do not carry the Cross of Christ. In today’s gospel, Christ tells the unbelieving Jews that ‘You will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he’. Yes, ‘When the Son of man is lifted up (on the Cross), you will know that I am he’, Jn 8: 28.
The Church has the prerogative of institution of the sacraments and sacramentals; from baptism, confirmation, holy Eucharist to the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. The olive oil is used for example in the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. Although it is used for ‘solemn exorcism’ as a sacramental, but my Bishop here in Nsukka diocese insists that its use must not be abused as a daily sacramental but strictly reserved to the dignity of a sacrament. The making of sacraments and sacramentals remain the prerogative of the Church but the onus lies on us, like in the case of the biblical Naaman or the Woman of haemorrhage to make an assent of faith and accept to ‘go and wash 7 times in the River Jordan’ or aver to touch ‘the fringe of his garments’. Sacramental faith, for me is even higher than dogmatic faith. May God bless you today!
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