Truly, this is the Son of God

The Church organizes Sunday readings on a three year cycle. What you heard today, you heard three years ago; and you'll hear the same readings three years from now.

In today's first reading, Genesis reports that Abraham was on the verge of making his son Isaac into a sacrificial offering to God. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son but God said "stop." This event is regarded as the divine command to stop practicing human sacrifice. In many cultures, however, human sacrifice continued. Abraham lived around 1950 BC. When I was doing research in Tunisia, North Africa, some local people pointed out to me a gravesite for the remains of children offered in human sacrifice by the Phoenicians back in 800 BC. When the Spaniards came to Mexico in 1500, the Aztecs were practicing human sacrifice on a grand scale: historians record that in one ceremony alone, 80,000 people were offered as human sacrifice. Thank God, literally, thank God that he told Abraham to cease the popular practice of human sacrifice.

St. Paul in the second reading writes, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Alluding to the near sacrifice by Abraham of Isaac, Paul asks, "He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not give us what we need?" The obvious answer is "God who gave us his Son Jesus, will give us everything that we need." Trust in God's love for you. God is on our side.

This year, the liturgical cycle presents to us St. Mark's gospel, the shortest of the four gospel gospels. The first half of Mark's gospel located Jesus up north at Galilee, performing many miracles, doing very little formal teaching, and asking everyone to keep silent about their perception that "You are the son of God, the chosen one, the Messiah." The first half of the gospel emphasizes the humanity of Jesus: he s a carpenter, he becomes angry, he pities the hungry crowd; and he asks questions. Now at the start of the second half of the gospel, the message changes drastically. The emphasis shifts from miracles to formal teaching. Instead of demanding silence about Jesus being the Son of God, Jesus himself proclaims now that he is the Son of God, the chosen One, the Messiah. Now, Jesus wants people to know who he is, and that he has come to save humanity. Also, just as the Father and Holy Spirit had been present at Jesus' baptism, now the Father and Holy Spirit are present at Jesus' Transfiguration. The Father and Spirit verify that "this is my beloved Son. Listen to him." At the end of the gospel, just as Jesus dies at his crucifixion, a Roman centurion declares, "Truly, this man is the Son of God." That is Mark's message: Jesus is Son of God, Savior.

How might we make application of these readings to our lives? First, regarding human sacrifice, appreciate the revolutionary role of our Judeo-Christian history and theology. While secularists like to downplay the role of religion in general and the role of the Catholic Church in particular, Jesus and the Church which he founded have provided the vision and theological-philosophical principles of individuality, community, unity, truth, love, freedom, and all other moral virtues. Remember, cult gives rise to culture; society cannot survive without religion being one of society's dominant institutions. Those who wish to tear down religious values and institutions, simultaneously tear down the basis on which society exists. The Catholic Church has done more good for society than any institution in the last two thousand years.

Secondly, have faith and hope. If God is for us, who can be against us? God who gave up his only Son to save us, will he forget us when we appear before God on judgment day? No.

In the gospel, Jesus revealed himself gradually, and people perceived him only gradually as human and divine. Ponder with personal depth what Jesus' humanity and divinity means to you. Can you repeat with conviction the words of the centurion, "Truly, this is the Son of God."

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley