Vigil of the First Sunday of Lent
Hebrews 4:14 -5:10
Mark 1:12-15
Mary Teresa Morris, OSB

The Sympathetic High Priest

The Letter Hebrews tells us that Jesus differs from all the other high priests that the people have known. He is sympathetic. I would rather think that he is empathetic. There is a subtle but important difference between the two words.

Sympathy is an act of feeling for someone. We feel sympathetic when someone has suffered a loss. Empathy has a subtle, but all important, difference.

Merriam Webster defines it as: "The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings of another."

Psychology Today defines it as: "Empathy is the experience of understanding another person's condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling.

The high priests before Jesus could sympathize, but not empathize. The concept of God was the One to whom one prayed for favor, for mercy, to have sympathy upon one's condition. In looking at the Psalms, the themes are often asking for help, deliverance, mercy. They do not pray to of God that is intimately with us. He is the ultimate high priest, sitting in judgement.

Jesus changed that. As the author of Hebrews said, he was one who walked among us. He chose to do this, this human experience, to draw the human to the divine. He lived it, he experienced it, he knew it. The Son of the Father could be known as an intimate, a friend.

The letter to the Hebrews tells us that, because of this, we can commit to, cling to our confession of faith. What are they now? The Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. What is it that we have confessed and tied our faith to for over two thousand years? So much that an important part of the entrance into the church community is the profession of faith. To me, they start with the two words that sum it all up: "I believe." Jesus, because he is God made man, we can believe.

The gospel is the episode of Jesus being tempted in the desert and being ministered to by angels. I don't think I have seen any of the flowing robes, or feathery wings. However, I have seen and been ministered to by community angels, family angels and friend angels. The reason is because we can emphasize with another's suffering, as did Jesus. And have been ministered to by angels as he was. And go the distance with that person.

I would like to suggest three things for this lent:

Memorize the Apostle Creed

Memorize the Nicene Creed, even in its current translation

Be someone's angel by accompanying them through dark days, tough days.

At the end of Lent, may we truly say the words of another season: 'Emmanuel: God with us."

And prepare as do the Catechumens to say at the Easter Vigil, "I believe."