Wednesday, June 27, 2012

What We Really Need

(Feast of St. Cyril of Alexandria-Year B; This homily was given on 27 June, 2012 at St. Sebastian's Church, Providence, R.I.  See Matthew 7:15-20)

Are you needy?  Do you have needs?  Of course you do.  As human persons we all share some of the most basic needs of life.  We have an innate need to be loved.   Along with that is the need to be forgiven, when we have failed God or those around us.  At the heart of the matter and more to the point: We need God.  Desperately.

How glorious that He is so ready and willing to give us what we need and long for most of all: Himself.  It is the story of our salvation writ large.

In the 5th Century there was an important and greatly influential bishop named Nestorius who believed Jesus, like us, had needs.  Certainly he did not teach that Jesus needed to be forgiven.   Nonetheless, Nestorius taught that Jesus was a human person who was joined to the Divine Person of the eternal Son of God.  It seemed to make sense to him that this human person would need to be joined to God and then suddenly have the power to perform miracles, heal the sick, suffer for us on the cross and then lead us all to heaven.

But Nestorius was wrong.

We do not believe that Jesus was a human person.  Catholics do not believe that at all.  In fact we believe that Jesus was a Divine Person who took on our human nature, becoming like us in all things but sin (see Hebrews 4:15 and Gaudium et Spes, #22). 

Why is that important?  Because believing and teaching the wrong thing about God can lead us away from God, and away from heaven.  The word we use for such teaching is heresy, and Christ takes it very seriously.   The early Church condemned the teaching of Nestorius because it was leading the people of God into error and away from the true teachings revealed by God. 

In the Gospel this morning Christ warns us all against such things.  He says:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves.
—Matthew 7:15

Jesus was not a human person who needed to be joined to God to do powerful things.   He is God who is in need of nothing.  Nonetheless He comes to us and takes on our human nature to redeem us because we need Him.

At the same time that Nestorius was teaching heresy about Christ, Bishop Cyril of nearby Alexandria—whose feast we celebrate today—was defending the Catholic faith by insisting that Jesus was not a human person but a Divine person who took on our human nature.  Even before He was born, while in the womb of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ is a Divine person.  He did not so much need love because He is love; He did not need to be joined to God because He is God; He is eternally united to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. 

St. Cyril of Alexandria, along with the fathers of the Council of Ephesus in 431, courageously proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary as Theotokos, the God-Bearer.   She carried in her body not merely the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth but the Divine person who is the eternal Son of God.  Indeed, she needed Him more than He needed her, since without Him she would not have existed.  Such is the mysterious and great glory of our Catholic faith. 

God does not need anything or anyone.  Yet He pines for us, longs for us, and greatly desires each and every one of us.   He becomes man and takes on our human nature so that we can receive the greatest gift and the most pressing need deep within our souls: Him.

With St. Cyril of Alexandria we thank God for so great a gift, given to us here in the Holy Eucharist.  We receive here the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ and pray for the grace to be as attentive to the needs of others this day as God is to our needs every day.