Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily March 18.
Did you know that the Anglo Texans who died in the Alamo were at least nominally Catholic citizens of Mexico? In an effort to develop the northern part of their country, the Mexican government gave land to American immigrants on the condition that they swear allegiance to Mexico and convert to Catholicism; Sam Houston, Stephen Austin and William Travis were Catholic citizens of Mexico.
At first their rebellion was just an expression of the frustration of Mexican citizens with a government unable to resolve the complaints of the more distant provinces due to the chaotic conditions in Mexico following independence from Spain. But by 1835 these men had reached their limit and they reached the point of being willing to sacrifice their lives if necessary in order to regain the freedom — as they understood it — that they had given up in exchange for land a generation earlier.
Well, something similar is happening in today’s Gospel, with far greater consequences. Jesus had already voiced many criticisms of the religious and political leaders of his day and is now preparing himself to sacrifice his life to regain for us the freedom that we had lost because of our sins: “when I am lifted up from the earth” — lifted up on the cross — “I will draw everyone to myself.” And over the centuries his death has inspired others to do the same and sacrifice their lives to bring this Good News of freedom to others.
The Tennessee Volunteers had an expansionist agenda that did great and lasting harm to the relationship between our two countries, but it is true that from their own perspective, they felt so inspired by these so-called martyrs of the Alamo that many of them went to Texas and risked their lives to fight alongside the Texas rebels. That’s why Tennessee is called the Volunteer State.
Well, in a much greater way, you and I should be so inspired by Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary that we now dedicate our entire lives to the struggle for freedom today, alongside Jesus, in our case, freedom from the power of sin and death. And just like with martyrs for freedom in every age, this freedom will be ours only when we are willing to give up everything in order to gain it.
Those who gave up their freedom — as they understood it — in exchange for free land — discovered that they could regain that freedom only by sacrificing everything for it — even their very lives.
The same applies to us today. If you give yourself over to the accumulation of material possessions in exchange for your citizenship in the Kingdom of God, you will find yourself trapped in an inner void of your own making and eventually the burden will be unbearable. Like a child with too much in his backpack, there’s only one way to lighten your load: by taking things out of your backpack and leaving them behind.
We are truly free only when we are not attached to material possessions, including our own life, and are willing to sacrifice everything when God asks us to.
And that is precisely what we promise in Mass when we offer ourselves to God in union with Jesus in this sacrifice of the altar. When Jesus says, “Do this in memory of me,” his words refer not only to Holy Thursday, but also to Good Friday. The words “do this” mean not only that we should consecrate bread and wine like Jesus did on Holy Thursday, but also that we should sacrifice our very selves like he did on Good Friday — making his body and blood offered on Holy Thursday and sacrificed on Good Friday our own as well, uniting ourselves with Jesus in order to then offer to God on this Altar not only Jesus’ body and blood, but also our own body and blood in union with his.
As Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “When I am lifted up from the earth” — on the cross — “I will draw everyone to myself.” His death draws us to his cross in order to invite us to embrace it and sacrifice ourselves for others like he did, in order to bring to others the same Good News of freedom that Jesus gained for us through his sacrificial death.
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