Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B

 

Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24

2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15

Mark 5: 21-43

Remember, Man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return.  In former days, those were the words the priest said over the individual on whose forehead he traced the black cross of ashes on Ash Wednesday.  Some still us that incantation even though an alternative text can be used, one that seems a bit more hopeful.  Turn away from sin and believe the Good News.  Death is a reality that humankind deals with from first awareness.  We live with the fact that we are going to die.  Some aver that humans are the only species on the face of the worth who carry that burden.  And while some might live a madcap existence of denial, the fact remains, everyone born of woman one day will die.

The reading from the Book of Wisdom tells us that that wasn’t the way God wanted it.  No wonder the human heart cries out against death’s inevitability.  Wisdom says God formed humans to be imperishable; the image of God’s own nature were humans made.  So, what went wrong?  Genesis spelled it out for us.  Sin entered the world, and with sin, death.  Humans became mortal.  And the rest of the Hebrew Bible is the account of God’s desire to make that right again, to remove the dominance of Death.

Jesus comes into the World to accomplish God’s will.  I must do the will of the One who sent me!  That is why Jesus’ message is called the Good News.  Oh Death, where is your victory?  Death, where is your sting?  Of course we can ask those questions only after Jesus dies – and rises, leaving Death vanquished.

This week’s gospel is amazing.  Of course, you say, which Sunday’s gospel isn’t amazing?  True.  But the wonder of this week’s proclamation is spellbinding.  It’s too bad the text is as long as it is.  Some will tune out before it’s over.  As they sit they will say Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!  But they say that every Sunday.  Will their hearts have been touched?

The pericope is the account of a miracle sandwiching a miracle.  Each happens in response to faith.  Jesus works constantly, preaching, teaching, healing.  Last week, after an exhausting day, Jesus got into the boat to go to the other side of the lake and in the course of the crossing exerted command over the wind and the waves causing those who witnessed the event to ask, Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?  We don’t hear the account of Jesus’ driving out the legion of demons from the possessed man in the verses after the calming that lead into today’s gospel.  Surely that must have been an exhausting encounter, too.  But then this Sunday’s gospel begins with Jesus getting back into the boat and crossing the lake once more.  And as soon as he steps on shore the crowds envelop Jesus again.  Frenzy over idols didn’t begin in this age.  But this crowd is different.  They’re wondering if Jesus might be the answer to their prayers, the one who will make a difference in their lives.

The grief-stricken synagogue official, Jairus, a person of position, abases himself at Jesus’ feet and pleads for Jesus to come to his home and save his 12-year-old daughter who is near death.  Immediately Jesus sets out for Jairus’ home.  And the crowds follow and press upon him.

The focus shifts.  A woman who has been suffering a hemorrhage for 12 years, as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive, a woman who has exhausted her savings with abusive doctors, the woman approaches Jesus convinced that if she touches just the hem of his clothes she will be cured.  The poor woman would know what it means to be shunned.  Because she is hemorrhaging anyone who came in contact with her would incur ritual impurity.  The woman has been living a miserable existence all these years and no one pays heed to her.  She has heard Jesus or she has heard about him.  In any event, she believes.  Hoping against hope that no one will notice her now and stop her, she stoops down, reaches out and touches Jesus’ cloak.  In an instant her pain leaves her as her hemorrhage dries up.  She is alive again.

See what Jesus does.  The translation we hear softens his reaction.  Closer to the meaning would be that Jesus whirled about as he asked Who touched me?  The question does not rise out of a fear of contamination.  After all, he has touched lepers.  The question seems silly to those nearest him.  Who touched you with all these people jostling you?  They all had touched him.  But someone touched him with faith and power went out of him.

The woman, fearing the worst, afraid that she would be excoriated for her effrontery, approaches Jesus admitting what she has done.  He calls her Daughter and acknowledges her faith that has been rewarded.  We see the difference between crowds who flock around Jesus out of curiosity and the disciple who believes.  The woman’s response is what Jesus longs for from the rest.  She goes home in peace.

There is no greater challenge to faith than death.  Immediately upon the heels of the woman’s healing comes news that Jairus’ daughter has died.  How long did Jairus’ and Jesus’ eyes lock in Jairus’ shocked silence?  How long was the moment Jairus had to decide to hope against hope?  Jesus challenges Jairus to hold on to faith and the promise.  Do not be afraid; just have faith.  We know that what follows is a significant moment – similar to the Transfiguration – because only Peter, James, and John are allowed to witness what happens after Jesus dismisses the professional mourners and quiets the din.  Only the three along with the girl’s mother and father, are in the room when Jesus touches the body, takes the girl by the hand and says: Talitha koum!  Little girl, arise!  Don’t miss that it is Jesus who commands and Death departs, obeying just as the wind and the waves had done.  Again, notice the response of the witnesses – utter astonishment.  That’s fine as far as it goes.  But it is not the same thing as faith, which is probably why Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen.  Exactly the orders he gave to Peter, James, and John on the way down the mountain after the Transfiguration.  Don’t tell anyone about this until you understand the meaning.  And you won’t understand the meaning until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.  Jesus told them to give the little girl something to eat.  That will prove that she is alive.  Remember what Jesus asked in an early post-Resurrection appearance?  Have you anything to eat?

Two miracles.  The woman who suffered for 12 years but believed in Jesus’ power.  The 12-year-old girl whose parents’ faith elicited from Jesus Talitha koum.

Take in the Word, broken for us, and dare to believe.  With that faith, incipient as it might be, proceed to the Table to enter into Mystery and be transformed by the act of Thanksgiving and, having eaten and drunk, dare to be sent to announce the Good News.  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.  And those who hear and are touched by you will know, as you believe, that Death’s power is no more.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE TWELFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – B

 

Job 38:1, 8-11

2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Mark 4:35-41

 

When the just man suffers, who will avenge him?  The epitome of the just man is Job.  Honorable in his relationships with God and his fellow humans, Job at the beginning of the story is blest with the best this world has to offer and he is beloved by all who know him.  But then, in a moment, his fortunes change.  Satan is granted permission by God to test Job to see how deep his honor runs.  Family and possessions vanish in a storm.  Job is reduced to the status of pauper and sits in an ash heap and is covered with sores.  To Satan’s amazement Job does not curse God but remains faithful.

Why do terrible things happen to good people?  That is the question posed by three friends who posit reasons of fault in Job for which his sufferings are repayment.  Job refuses to accept their logic all the while concluding that the Lord gives.  The Lord takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.  So it is that at the end of the story and after all of the arguing and wondering why, God speaks not so much to refute or correct, but to help Job and the others see God as God is.  And God speaks of the sea.

Stand on a shore at sunset and watch fading light dance of the rolling waves.  As darkness settles in listen to the rushing of the waves.  Gaze into the expanse and you are confronted with the mighty symbol of omnipotence and infinity.  Witness the sea in a storm and there is no denying its majesty.  But God speaks and the imagery applied to the sea is that of a newborn and pesky babe sprung from the womb and wrapped in swaddling clothes of clouds and darkness.  And God reminds Job that God set limits for the sea and fastened the bar of its door, and said: Thus far shall you come but no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stilled.  The sea is majestic and for the Jewish people also something to be feared because of the dark forces that dwelled there.  It’s storms and the relentless pounding of the waves threatened to destroy the very order of creation and return it to its pre-Eden condition where evil could reign.  That’s what was feared.  And God says that God commands the sea and it obeys.  It is an ordered creation in which human kind dwell in the sight of God.

Into that ordered creation God sent the Word to become flesh, to unite the human and the divine, to seek what was lost and to save.  Jesus is that Word, the beloved Son of the Father who preaches the Good News of salvation, ministers to the poor and the lowly, and invites all to follow in him into God’s reign.  Crowds come and watch and listen.  Some experience his touch and witness the driving out of evil forces and the freeing of paralyzed and infected limbs.  The crowds listen, watch, and wonder about who Jesus is.  Could he be?

In the Liturgical Year we are back in Ordinary Time, continuing the journey with the Gospel of Mark that was interrupted in February when we began the Lenten Season and continued through the Easter Season.  Each time we make this journey it is to be formed more and more in Christ and to make clearer our understanding of who Christ is and what it means to be his disciple.  Those are not easy lessons to learn.

In this Sunday’s gospel Jesus has finished a series of teachings, we call them parables, and as evening draws on, he determines to leave the crowds and cross to the other side of the lake.  It is clear that Jesus is exhausted and so makes his way to the stern of the boat where he soon sleeps.  Then comes the storm with waves so high that it seems they will engulf the boat.  Those in the boat with him panic and wake him.  (Interesting isn’t it that Jesus is able to sleep through the violent heaving of the boat in the midst of wind and splashing water?)  They seem impertinent as they fault him for ignoring them in their peril.  Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?  They sound like spoiled children, petty and self-absorbed.  Did they whine as they cried out?

Place yourself in that boat.  Or better, remember a difficult time that filled you with dread and threatened to break you.  When you lost your job.  When your IRA halved in value or worse.  When your physician told you she had bad news for you.  When you sat at the bedside of a dying loved one.  Any one of these incidents can break your spirit and fill you with dread.  Any one of these incidents can make you wonder where God is.  Any one can make you wonder why Jesus doesn’t do something.  Wake up!  Don’t you see that I am perishing?

In these days we have seen horrific things of unimaginable proportion.  Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fires.  People are still recovering from Katrina.  People stand in the ashy remains of what once were their homes.  And there are the horrors we unleash on each other, enfleshing that remind of man’s inhumanity to man.  9/11 is vivid in our memories.  Suicide bombings continue in Iraq.  Other troubled parts of our world seem to rumble like quakes that precede a volcano’s eruption.  And we can wonder, where is God.

We sit or stand and listen to the proclamation of the readings.  As we do, the images wash over us in what should be a soothing balm.  This remains a world created by God and populated with God’s creatures.  God still holds the world, the universe in God’s creative love.  God envelops creation and its creatures with unconditional and undying love.

Jesus woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, Quiet!  Be still!  And the calm followed immediately.  What Jesus then said to those in the boat with him he says to us.  Why are you terrified?  Do you not yet have faith?  That is the question we constantly have to ask ourselves.  They called Jesus’ teacher as they woke him.  Rabbi.  Our understanding can be at that same stage of development as we acknowledge the wonders of Jesus’ teachings and how well they apply.  But the faith that Jesus looks for goes beyond that.  Way beyond that.  They were filled with great awe and said to one another: Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?

It is one thing to be filled with great awe, which translated means to stand and gape with mouths wide open.  Amazement isn’t faith.  They asked the question.  So do we.  Who then is this?  It is the question we continue to ask all along the journey as we are drawn deeper into Mystery each time we assemble to break open the word and to celebrate the Eucharist.  And we know that the Spirit will empower the answer when we know we believe.

Sincerely,

Didymus

THE FEAST OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST

Exodus 24:3-8

Hebrews 9:11-15

Mark 14:12-16, 22-26

Deprivation can create a longing.  Have you ever noticed that?  If you go on a diet or fast to lose weight, all of a sudden desserts, the richest, most calorie laden, can become almost irresistible.  Caught in an arid place for a prolonged period, imagine the thirst that would develop.  I remember as a child the fascination I had for the word steak.  I heard others talk about it and, because it was something my parents could not afford and therefore something I had never encountered, my imagination tripped about the word and I wondered.

The solemnity we celebrate today rose out of deprivation.  Its inception in the thirteenth century came from the faithful’s longing for the Eucharist they seldom were able to receive.  This was the era when the priest, after the words of institution, accompanied by the ringing of bells, held up the Bread and then the Cup for the assembly to adore from their places in the nave.  They looked with longing and adored.  For the most part that was about as close as they came to Holy Communion.

The feast has had various titles down through the centuries.  The one you might resonate with more is Corpus Christi, Latin for The Body of Christ.

Eucharistic devotions developed in this period.  Monstrances, jeweled and ever more splendid, came into being.  There purpose was to provide a fitting showcase to expose the Bread for the faithful to adore.  This was the time when Benediction began, the practice of blessing the assembled with the Eucharist they could not receive.  On the Feast of Corpus Christi, processions with the Eucharist in the monstrance moved out of the church and made their way through the streets of the parish.  The people sang hymns appropriate for Eucharistic adoration.  And at three stations, the procession would stop and the priest carrying the monstrance would bless the pilgrims.  I will never forget one such celebration in the magnificent city of Chartres.   The thurifer swinging the thurible in wide arcs at the procession’s head sent plumes of sweet smoke to waft about us like a divine embrace.  It’s a shame those processions don’t happen that often today.  They provide memorable experiences and opportunities for contemplation.  Such devotions are also the logical consequence of the objectifying of Eucharist, making the sacrament something to adore rather than something to do.  The reality ought to be both.

The action of the Corpus Christi procession brings the sacramentally present Christ into the city to bless the inhabitants especially those who are in difficulty of one kind or another.  To comfort the homeless, to be present to the sick and the aged, to support children and those adults out of work, the blessing is a manifestation of Christ and the church’s love for the poor, the disenfranchised, those deemed by others to be lowly.  I remember a grainy newsreel from the World War II period.  The blitzing of London resulted in rubble and death.  Bewildered citizens clustered in groups for mutual support and encouragement.  Then the King and Queen in street clothes walked among the people and told them that they cared and that England would survive to a better day.  Somehow those images speak to what can happen in the procession.  There doesn’t need to be a disaster to have people with deep longing and in anguish.  But Christ longs to be present to those concerns and to bring peace and restore hope.

The word Eucharist means thanksgiving. In the Eucharist we give thanks to God in the dying and rising of Jesus in the Bread and the Wine.  We experience the divine outpouring of love in the action that destroyed sin, suffering and death’s tyranny forever.  It is because of Christ’s body broken for us and his blood poured out for us that we know our sins are forgiven and we are destined to live united in Christ forever.  In the action of Eucharist we are drawn into mystery to recognize Christ sacramentally present and to be transformed by that presence.  We hear the words again:  Take this all of you and eat it.  This is my body which is given up for you.  Take this all of you and drink of it.  This is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant.  It will be shed for you and for all so that sins might be forgiven.  Do this in my memory. Do this, Christ commands, and I will be present to you, to live with you, and to act through you.  We hear the words.  We recognize the presence.  We bow.

On this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, please God, there will be celebration, processions, songs, and blessings.  May there be the wafting scent of incense to tantalize and remind of God’s presence.  May the monstrance sparkle in the afternoon sun and radiate Christ’s blessings to all present and not.  And I also pray that as we go forth from the celebration of the Eucharist, having eaten and drunk of the gifts presented to us, we will be recommitted to being that bread broken and cup poured out for those most in need.  The blessings must be enfleshed and we have been transformed by the celebration precisely for that purpose.  The poor and all those in various needs must be embraced because Christ embraces them.  Christ, through those who live in him, longs to wash the feet of his disciples.  Christ wants to take, bless and break bread to feed the multitudes and to find that there is plenty for all.  Christ desires to weep with those who mourn and rejoice with those who have reason for elation, his eye all the while on the sparrow.

At the time of ordination the new priest was told to imitate what you handle. That same injunction would be most apt to each one of us each time we stand in the Communion procession with our hands extended, empty and open.  Imitate what you receive.  And if the words were taken to heart, imagine what could happen then.

Sincerely,

Didymus