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Saturday Vigil: 5:30 PM
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MIDNIGHT MUSINGS

ENCOURAGEMENT IN THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS

            This year we listen to the letter to the Hebrews for seven Sundays, starting last Sunday through the thirty-third Sunday of the Year.  As early as the second century, this document bore the title “To the Hebrews.”  For centuries it was assumed that St. Paul wrote it, but there are too many stylistic differences to consider it a work of St. Paul.  It reads more like a homily than a letter.

            The author sees the danger of his audience’s falling away from the faith.  This is not due to persecution from the outside but from a weariness with the demands of Christian life and a growing indifference to their calling.  He calls his document a “message of encouragement” (Hebrews 13:22).  The first two chapters outline the uniqueness of Jesus.  It begins with a reminder of the preexistence, incarnation, resurrection and ascension of Jesus that proclaimed him the climax of God’s word to humanity (Hebrews 1:1–3). He dwells upon the dignity of the person of Christ, superior to the angels (Hebrews 1:4–2:2).  Jesus as high priest expiated sin and was faithful to God with the faithfulness of God’s own Son (Hebrews 2:17–3:6).

            Today’s reading from chapter 4 focuses on that priesthood of Jesus.  Once a year the Jewish high priest entered the most sacred part of the Jerusalem temple, the Holy of Holies, to offer with the blood of animals a sacrifice for sin.  Jesus did not bring the sacrifice of his life to a temple on earth but to God’s presence in heaven: “Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession” (Hebrews 4:14).  The high priest performed that ceremony with animal blood yearly on the Day of Atonement.  Jesus’ one perfect sacrifice of himself never needs repeating.

            Because Jesus really shared our humanity, as high priest he is anxious to help us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So, let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Hebrews 4:15-16).  Our high priest Jesus bring us into his Father’s presence, to the “throne of grace.”  Jesus’ coming in glory may seem to be delayed, but in the meantime, we have direct access to Jesus and his Father.

Fr. Paul Image

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Paul Vuturo