- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 9, 2006

This is an excerpt of a sermon preached yesterday by the Rev. Phillip Cozzi at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Fairfax.

We often hear that ignorance breeds contempt. Isn’t it ironic that familiarity can result in the same sort of contempt? We become so acclimated to our surroundings, to the people in our lives, that we make assumptions about their temperament.

Those who lived in Nazareth with Jesus thought they knew this carpenter. This familiarity with Jesus’ human nature blinded them from recognizing His divine mission as one who intimately shared in God’s divine nature. They were so accustomed to seeing Jesus in His daily role that they grew immune to the sanctity of Jesus.

Have we grown so accustomed to our daily routine as Christians that we fail to recognize Jesus as the Holy One of God? We might be deceived into thinking this is a question we no longer have to ask ourselves, but we quickly realize this is not the case when we uncover what holiness means.

During Old Testament times, the ancient Hebrew people did not know how to describe Yahweh. They decided upon the Hebrew equivalent of “holy,” which originally meant “different” or “other.” And the people of Nazareth could not recognize this quality of “otherness” or holiness in Jesus, as one wholly set apart for the work of God.

When we conceive of the liturgy, our Catholic faith teaches us that it is the principal work of holiness, or “otherness.” And what is this work of God? It is the work of our eternal salvation, and it is ultimately holy or different because through Christ’s death we receive this eternal life.

That is why we see things in the liturgy that we don’t see elsewhere. There is a sanctuary, a special section of the church, reserved for the sacred ministers. The altar is reserved for the celebration of the Eucharist alone. Finally, there is the priest, who does not wear regular clothes when he celebrates Mass. He wears sacred vestments. He also takes a vow of celibacy, not because marriage is evil, but because he is exclusively set apart for God alone.

Ultimately, the question we ought to ask ourselves is whether we recognize the divinity of Christ when we celebrate the liturgy. Today, in this church, we are in the same position as those folks from Nazareth. Will we take offense at Christ through our indifference, through our unwillingness to recognize the presence of the divine among us when we participate in the Mass? Do we understand that when we receive the Eucharist, we receive the living God Himself? When that awareness becomes entrenched within us, we move from habitual boredom and indifference to adoration — then we participate in the work of God, in our eternal salvation.

It is not our work. It is God’s work. But our participation in it becomes more effective when we recognize who it is that we are dealing with; the Holy One who humbles Himself under the form of bread and wine, who gives us His grace. This is a realization which the powerful of this world cannot come to. For them, power is the exercise of one’s supposed moral, financial or authoritative prowess. But St. Paul writes that power is made perfect in weakness. Weakness forces us to depend on God rather than on our own resources, and we recognize that it is not about us but about Him. This is the attitude of worship, of adoration.

Let us take this opportunity today to recognize and appreciate once again just who Jesus is, the Holy One of God who comes to forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, to divinize us and make us, like Himself, holy.

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