The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Nothing will be wasted

When they had had their fill, Jesus said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.”
John 6:12

Sunday, July 29, 2012
17th Sunday in Ordinary Time—B

2Kings 4:42-44
Ephesians 4:1-6
John 6:1-15

We waste an awful lot. Food, time, energy, water, money. The list goes on. Ours is a disposable society.

Everything is important, but nothing matters much.

We waste words. Many speak. Few say anything. No wonder so few listen.

We waste opportunities. They fly by every second of our lives. Every once in a while, we grab one and make the most of it. Most pass by unnoticed, never to return.

We waste knowledge, emotions, actions.

We waste joy, sadness, courage, fear, conviction, uncertainty, pleasure, pain.

We waste people. If we’re honest, we’ll admit we often pay attention only to those whom we like, and who like us.

We waste death. Life is cheap.

We waste the grandeur of mystery, the glorious gifts that drench us from above each and every moment we spend on this earth. The Kingdom of Heaven is budding all around us, but we see dimly.

More than anything, we waste love. God's love. Love of ourselves. The love of others.

But all is not lost. Not even close.

In John 6, Jesus feeds 5,000 people. All they had were five barley loaves (the food of the poor) and two fish. It wasn’t much. In fact, in wasn’t anything at all. They needed food, but had too little. Jesus fed them all. They had their fill.

Often overlooked, though, is this passage: “When they had had their fill, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.’” It’s an important sentence. Why do you think Jesus cared about all the leftovers? Why did the writer of the gospel feel it necessary to report this? As the end of John says, Jesus did many other things that were never recorded. This one was.

Much more than a meal is going on here. Jesus is providing more than food for the hungry. This act—this mystery—signifies something else, something much greater. For those who need, who have nothing (which is all of us in one respect or another), God provides. He gives us Himself. Jesus gathers us, feeds us, fills us with bread from heaven. The Body of Christ becomes what it receives. We are what we eat, as the saying goes.

Then, when we’re finished, Jesus tells US: “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” Fragments, scraps, crumbs, crusts, tidbits, particles.

Garbage, waste, or trash is what we call them.

But nothing will be wasted, Jesus says. Nothing.

After everyone has received Communion at Mass, the priest and/or Eucharistic ministers consume whatever remains. They don’t throw it out. Nothing of God's is wasted.

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. ... The one who feeds on me will have life because of me,” Jesus says (John 6:51, 57). We are fed by His life, and our lives as Christ are commissioned to feed the lives of others, to gather all the fragments.

Nothing will be wasted. No matter our need, nor how little we have.

Not food, time, energy, water, nor money.

Not words.

Not opportunities.

Not knowledge, emotions, nor actions.

Not joy, sadness, courage, fear, conviction, uncertainty, pleasure, nor pain.

Not people. Those we like and those we don’t. Those who like us, and those who don’t.

Not even death. The Resurrected Christ in us gathers all the barley loaves of the poor, all the fragments and crumbs, whatever seems small and useless, and makes us One.

Nothing we have, do, or are is wasted. Everything belongs. It all matters—this grandeur of mystery, this glorious gift that drenches us from above each and every moment. We may still see dimly, but the Kingdom of Heaven buds all around us. Especially in all the leftovers.

God’s love is not wasted. Not one crumb, no matter how crusty. Taste and see.

Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.
From Christ's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
Matthew 10:8; John 1:16

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"You spread the table before me"

Sunday, July 22, 2012
16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—B

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Ephesians 2:13-18
Mark 6:30-34

Yes, the world is full of evil. We are divided, scattered, misled, untended, separated from one another and from our Creator. Sin, sweat, and sorrow plague us individually and socially. This has been the case for centuries upon centuries, and will continue to be the case as long as human beings inhabit the earth. We are utterly reprehensible. Who would love us?

God would, and does.

Today’s readings center on Christ the Good Shepherd, who comes among us to gather us back to himself, to guide us, care for us, and to reconcile us with God and one another. As the Letter to the Ephesians states, “He is our peace,” putting our enmity to death by the cross on which he suffered and died. God sacrifices his very self for our salvation because there is no other way to reverse the Fall. Jesus sucks up all that is hideous about humanity into his sinless being, becoming sin itself (cf. 2Corinthians 5:21). Then he exterminates it through his death—offering us everlasting hope through the Resurrection.

This is what he offers us—a free, immeasurable, unattainable gift. It is ours to accept or refuse; and if we choose to accept it, then we must live it daily by our own crosses, giving away our own lives out of love for God and one another—usually in small ways, but sometimes in much more significant fashion.

The key to understanding all this and making it a part of ourselves is the utter compassion Jesus demonstrates in today’s Gospel. First, he tells his exuberant disciples, who are impressed by their own labors, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” Later, when he looks out on the vast crowed that has followed them, “his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” So, Jesus begins to teach them, and later, as the Gospel continues, to feed them all from a few scraps of ordinary food—a clear Eucharistic reference.

He is our peace.

Jesus drives this point home from the cross on which he was nailed. From there, he looks out over his fallen, hungry people with compassion, and cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). And just before he hands over his spirit, he says, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Redemption and reconciliation have been accomplished through his beaten, defeated, (seemingly) destroyed body. Power is made perfect in weakness. While chaos still seems to prevail all around us, “all things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). New life is breathed into our troubled souls through the blood of the Cross. While the battle threatens to rage on around us and within us, the victory has been won.

He is our peace.

While it is always helpful to gaze upon the Cross to enter into this mystery, it is also worthwhile to consider another perspective—that of Christ’s from the cross. What did he see? What was his viewpoint? Can we place ourselves on the cross and see what he saw? Thousands of artists have depicted the crucifixion in various ways, but in the late 19th-Century, the French painter James Tissot asked these questions, creating the piece pictured above—titled What Our Lord Saw from the Cross. The only parts of Jesus’ body visible are his feet at the very bottom. And looking up at him is a sea of humanity whose feet he washes clean with his very own blood. 

From this vantage point, he looks out on the world, on you and me, from the beginning to the end of time, and his heart is moved with pity, for we are like sheep without a shepherd. And he cries out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

He is our peace. It is finished.

"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you" (John 20:21).

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lift up your hearts

"Let my prayer arise
before you like incense."
Psalm 141:2

"Virtues are formed by prayer.
Prayer preserves temperance,
it suppresses anger,
and prevents emotions
of pride and envy.
Prayer draws into the soul
the Holy Spirit
and raises us to Heaven."
St. Ephrem the Syrian

Monday, July 16, 2012

Our Lady of Einsiedeln

Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln.

Today is the titular feast of our Archabbey Church here at Saint Meinrad: Our Lady of Einsiedeln. The name Einsiedeln is German for "hermitage," and is named after the Abbey of Maria Einsiedeln in Switzerland, which established Saint Meinrad Archabbey here in the United States in 1854. The monastery church in Switzerland is built over the hermitage site where the monk Saint Meinrad was martyred in the ninth century.

So today, imploring the intercession of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, we celebrate our common heritage with the monks in Switzerland, past and present, and ask for God's continued blessing on our monasteries. Please join us in our prayer--especially for more monastic vocations to both houses!

Abbey of Maria Einsiedeln in Switzerland.

O, God,
you have blessed us
with the loving protection
of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Through the intercession
of Our Lady of Einsiedeln,
hear our prayers
and keep us
in your constant care.
Through Christ our Lord.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

God's calling plan

 Sunday, July 15, 2012
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time—B

Amos 7:12-15
Ephesians 1:3-14
Mark 6:7-13

Just who were the Twelve Apostles, really?

Nobody special. They were not high-class, or well-educated, or upstanding citizens. Quite the contrary is true. They did not apply for the position, and they were not vetted for particular credentials. In fact, they were not qualified at all.

And yet, unqualified, unprepared and flawed as they were, Jesus “summoned” them, as today’s Gospel states. He sent them out to preach the Gospel, gave them authority, and instructed them. He chose them, and then he qualified them. “You did not choose me but I chose you,” Jesus later tells them in the Gospel of John (15:16). “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (15:5).

The prophet Amos, prefiguring the Christian response to God’s call long before Jesus’ time, knew the nature of this gift. In today’s first reading he states: “I was no prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores. The Lord took me from following the flock, and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people.’” And so he went—nobody special, yet accomplishing God’s work.

Today, all Christians have precisely the same call—in different ways and circumstances, to be sure, but the call to live and preach the Gospel is universal. Not everyone hears the call, or responds to it. Some take their time answering. Others simply (and sadly) refuse. But the call is there.

In today’s beautiful and theologically rich passage from the Letter of St. Paul to the Ephesians, we are told that God blesses and chooses each one of us “before the foundation of the world.” Think about that for a minute. It’s an astounding declaration. Before the One God in Three Persons created the universe, before anyone was born, before Jesus as God the Son came into the world, he chose us. Otherwise, we simply would not be. And knowing us completely—more fully than we will ever know ourselves—God knew beforehand how unqualified we would be, how unprepared, how flawed. He knew that we would all turn away from him, would sin, and would know failure, sorrow, and pain.

Yet he still chose us. He knew before anything was that Jesus would enter into a point in time to show us the way to God. He knew that a Savior would be necessary before sin existed, before we existed—to make us holy, to adopt us, to redeem us, to make himself known to us, and to involve us in his plan to “sum up all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). As St. Paul says elsewhere, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). We are, as the Letter to the Ephesians says, chosen and destined by a God who accomplishes all things, “to exist for the praise of his glory.”

This is a wonderful mystery that cannot be fully grasped. We must simply let it grasp us, guide us. But that is difficult for us to do, isn’t it?

A couple years before coming to the monastery, I had a discussion with a very wise priest. I knew I was being called to something new, something both exciting and terrifying simply because it was unknown. I felt totally overwhelmed and unqualified for whatever it was that God had in store for me (at that time I didn’t know precisely what it was, but I felt the pull, so to speak). “I can’t do it,” I told the priest. He listened to my reasons, and then gently said, “If God is calling you to something, he will give you everything you need to accomplish it. Do not be afraid. He is always with you.”

It took me a while longer to realize that indeed, God calls first; then he qualifies. We do not—and cannot—qualify ourselves first. Once I was granted the grace to understand that, I was able to make a leap of faith that I never could have foreseen; such an act went completely against the grain of how I typically operated. In fact, some people thought I had gone nuts! (And I am, a little.)

The parents of my new baby nephew—particularly my sister—no doubt feel completely overwhelmed and unqualified right now. But God called little Evan into this world and into their lives for a reason. With Evan’s unwitting (and malodorous) assistance, God will qualify them. Years from now, Evan will be called down his own vocational path. In one way or another, each of us is called to participate in God’s plan to “sum up all things in Christ.”

At one level, today’s readings revolve around vocation, and everybody has one where God is concerned. No one is qualified. No is one is prepared. Everyone is flawed. Yet God still calls. However, at a still deeper level, today’s readings emphasize God’s initiative and his providence. We love because he first loved us before the foundation of the world (cf. 1John 4:19; John 1:1-5).

Ultimately, vocation is not about what we do, but about who we are. Just like the apostles, we are nobody special—but chosen nonetheless. We are chosen by God to give what we do not have, to bestow in Christ every spiritual blessing from absolute nothingness, to live in the mystery of God’s will to sum up all things in Christ. And he is with us each step of the way.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rock and Rule

He set my feet upon a rock
and made my footsteps firm.
Psalm 39

The monastery of Sacro Speco (Sacred Cave) in Italy,
built over the cave where it all began for St. Benedict and his

Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Benedict, the founder of western monasticism whose "little rule for beginners" has inspired millions of Christian disciples for over 1,500 years.

In a way, St. Benedict has two feast days during the liturgical year. Up until 1962, it was March 21 (the date of his death in 547 A.D.) in the old Roman calendar. It was moved to July 11 (the date of the transfer of his relics) to free the early part of the year up for the Lenten observance. Much of the Church observes the feast day now as a memorial on July 11, though a number of Benedictine foundations still reserve March 21 to honor the saint. Here at Saint Meinrad, we observe March 21 as a Solemnity and July 11 as simply a feast day. Many other monasteries celebrate on July 11, but doing so here would not be as feasible because it's during the summer when all the seminarians and students are away and many monks are off on summer assignments or vacation.

From a personal standpoint, I will always be partial to July 11, because that is the day my house sold in 2006, freeing me up to quit my job and come to the monastery a few months later. It was an enormously trying period for me because I still had not heard back about whether or not my application to the monastery had been officially accepted, and yet I had to get the house on the market and sell it if I was going to have any reasonable chance to be here for the beginning of candidacy that fall. And I could not quit my job until the house sold. It was not a good time to be selling houses in the area where I lived, so I was taking an enormous leap of faith all around, and I felt very overwhelmed.

It still makes me smile as I recall that I received not one but THREE offers for the house on July 11, when my house had only been on the market for 10 days and other nearby homes in my price range had been sitting idle for months. I was amazed and very fortunate. Needless to day, it was a huge consolation and confirmation that I was on the right track, and everything quickly fell into place after that.

In any event, now that I'm here, I honor the memory of St. Benedict on March 21 along with the rest of the monastic community at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. On July 11, I fondly recall the events described above, as well as my brief stay at Sacro Speco (Sacred Cave) in Italy in the summer of 2010. The monastery at Sacro Speco (about an hour east of Rome) is well over 1,000 years old, and is carved into the side of a mountain. It was constructed over the cave where a young St. Benedict lived as a hermit for three years before he began establishing monastic communities as they have come to be known. It was from this rock-hewn cradle that the Benedictine Order was born. It is a beautiful place, and I feel a very special affinity for it in my heart--perhaps because it was carved out of rock and because my baptismal name (Craig) is Gaelic for "rock."

May St. Benedict continue to blesss and guide us as we all seek to prefer nothing to Christ.

God our Father,
you made St. Benedict an outstanding guide
to teach us how to live in your service.
Grant that by preferring your love
to everything else, we may walk
in the way of your commandments.

Stir up, O Lord, in your Church, the spirit
with which St. Benedict was animated,
that filled with the same spirit,
we may learn to love
what he loved
and practice
what he taught.
Through Christ our Lord.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;
so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.”

Matthew 9:37-38

“The responsibility for spreading the Gospel that saves belongs to everyone—to all those who have received it! The missionary duty concerns the whole body of the Church; in different ways and to different degrees, it is true, but we must all of us be united in carrying out this duty. Now let the conscience of every believer ask himself: Have I carried out my missionary duty? Prayer for the missions is the first way of fulfilling this duty.”

-- Pope Paul VI

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Do you know this man?

 Sunday, July 8, 2012
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time—B

Ezekiel 2:2-5
2Corinthians 12:7-10
Mark 6:1-6

Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes. We think we know a person, have him or her figured out, and are familiar with his or her background, thought processes, attributes. Nothing he or she can do or say will surprise us.

Impossible! No person thoroughly knows another, no matter how close they are, how much time they spend with one another, how long they have known one another. Even the most intimate of companions or spouses have unexamined or developing aspects of themselves. One’s skin contains only one person, and even he or she doesn’t fully comprehend who that person is or will become. Only the Creator of all knows all, as recounted in Psalm 139:

O Lord, it was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you.

But when we think we really know someone (thinking we are God?), we tend to miss or dismiss their potential, to impose superficial limits on our own perspective (and that of others)—and, quite possibly, on the capabilities of the person in question. We observe someone and then shake our heads, cluck our tongues, and say, “He’s always been that way.”

Another opportunity lost!

I once worked with someone who, at the beginning of the shift, would smile, rub his hands, and proclaim, “I’m excited about the possibilities!” It was an inside joke in a difficult work environment, but he also really meant it. His was a voice of optimism in what could be an otherwise negative atmosphere. His proclamation gave me hope—and no small measure of amusement.

Such an attitude opens doors, presents fresh opportunities, and brings to light new perspectives. Applying this to our relationship with a person we may think we know all too well, we may ask: can we allow ourselves to be excited about the possibilities, to be open to a new encounter with the same old, same old, to see and hear the presence of Christ within him or her despite (or because of) all we know?

Last week’s Gospel touched on the role that faith has in the healing presence of Jesus. Today’s Gospel drives home the same point from a different approach. Are we able to have faith in Christ’s presence in the familiar, in what and whom we know (or think we know)? Even Jesus was taken for granted by those who knew him. Familiarity—even with Jesus—bred contempt.

Jesus attempts to proclaim the Good News in his native place, but is met with scorn: “Where did this man get all this? … Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary…?” In other words: “Who does he think he is? We know him, where he came from. He’s got some nerve trying to tell us what’s what!”

And so Jesus laments, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place.”

Because of the lack of faith exhibited by those who knew (or thought they knew) him best, we are told that Jesus “was not able to perform any mighty deeds there.” As flawed human beings, we disproportionately place our faith in strength, outward beauty, and wealth. When someone without such qualities—even Jesus—presents us with a prophetic challenge to look with an open heart at what and whom is all too familiar, we find it easy to overlook, dismiss, or scorn. We forget that “power is made perfect in weakness” (2Corinthians 12:9), the only remedy there is for the original sin of human pride. So it is that God became man, was born of a virgin, was quietly raised in humble circumstances, performed mighty deeds and taught great truths within the ordinariness of human living, was betrayed and crucified as a common criminal…and then was resurrected.

And so, today’s Gospel calls each of us to look with the eyes of faith at everything and everyone around us, to see the presence of Christ, to detect brand new possibilities within the familiar, and to acknowledge the power in weakness. We are called to hear the prophetic witness of the Good News from the most unlikely of sources, and to acknowledge that as much as we know, we really don’t know...

... Except, that is, through faith in the Person of Christ, who is all in all (cf. Ephesians 1:23). When we allow him entry into our hearts, we can then ask, as did the inhabitants of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: “Who is this? (Matthew 21:10). Then, the knowledge of who Jesus is will truly reveal us in relation to God and one another.

Jesus is, quite simply, God’s Word to us, power made perfect in weakness:

"This is my son, the beloved,
with whom I am well pleased."

Matthew 3:17

"I am gentle and humble of heart."
Matthew 11:29

"I am there among them
[where two or three are gathered in my name]."
Matthew 18:20

"I am deeply grieved, even to death."
Matthew 26:38

"I am with you always."
Matthew 28:20

"I am [the Messiah, son of the Blessed One]."
Mark 14:61-62

"I am among you as one who serves."
Luke 22:27

"I am he [the Messiah],
the one who is speaking to you."
John 4:26

"I am the bread of life."
John 6:35

"I am the living bread that came down from heaven."
John 6:51

"I am the light of the world."
John 8:12

"I am the gate for the sheep."
John 10:7

"I am the good shepherd."
John 10:11

"I am the resurrection and the life."
John 11:25

"I am the way and the truth and the life."
John 14:6

"I am coming to you."
John 14:18

"I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you."
John 14:20

"I am the vine, you are the branches."
John 15:5

"I am thirsty."
John 19:28

"But who do YOU say that I am?"
Matthew 6:15

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Prayer for stillness

Dear God,
Speak gently in my silence.
When the loud outer noises
of my surroundings,
and the loud inner noises
of my fears
keep pulling me away from you,
help me to trust
that you are still there
even when I am unable
to hear you.

"Come to me,
all you who are
and I will
give you rest...
for I am gentle
and humble
of heart."

Let that
loving voice
be my guide.


Henri J.M. Nouwen

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The contemplative path

"It is not in our power to determine
whether we are disturbed by thoughts,
but it is up to us to decide
if they are to linger within us or not."

Evagrius Ponticus (4th-Century monk)

Almost everyone struggles with prayer at one time or another. During our darkest moments, God seems absolutely silent, or even absent altogether. A thousand distractions--exterior and interior--demand our attention: "God's not here, but we are! Pay attention to us!"

We tell ourselves that nearby construction or traffic noise, a chattering acquaintance, or the Def Leppard fan next door are making it impossible for us to concentrate and contemplate. However, if we are honest with ourselves, those frustrations are usually projections of our own "inner noise" in its varied forms. They can arise from a troublesome childhood, a burdensome work situation, a strained relationship, worrisome health, or countless other issues. Whatever the source seems to be, we feel ourselves being stirred by avarice, anger, pride, gluttony, lust, sadness, restlessness, or vainglory (Evagrius, quoted above, says all distracting thoughts originate from these eight). Real or imagined conversations, anxiety, guilt, fear consume us.

How are we supposed to pray? Where is God?

The trouble is that all those things operate on the surface of our existence. They persuade us from going any deeper--where all is silent, where all is God--to the point where we identify completely with all these thoughts and feelings. We think they define who we are. They become our "inner videos," as Martin Laird, O.S.A., calls them, and we replay them over and over in our heads until they seem to us to be the truth. But in reality, these inner videos divert our attention from the Truth that is God. So, we feel alone, isolated, alienated from God--who has, in fact, never left our side.

This entire premise is one that has come up in my own spiritual life, and it is a recurring theme with several of my spiritual directees. It is a universal phenomenon.

Thankfully, we have the wisdom of some of the very first monks and desert hermits, as well as the early Church Fathers to guide us. Laird, an Augustinian priest who teaches theology at Villanova University, has studied and written extensively on this topic. He has written two wonderful books that are by far the best I have read on the subject of contemplative prayer (and I read a lot of them), at least from a contemporary perspective. These are Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (2006) and A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation (2011), both by Oxford University Press. (Incidentally, he has also written a title in our Notes from a Monastery series at Abbey Press' Path of Life Publications titled Solitude: Being with God Alone, Together.)

Laird really says nothing new (and neither have I). However, he does a remarkable job of pulling together and placing the ancient wisdom of the early monks and Church Fathers in a contemporary context. He helps us understand that our difficulties in prayer are not obstacles to overcome but opportunities to surrender to what is, thereby piercing the surface of our self-identifying thoughts and emotions, and entering into the awareness of the presence of God who is all in all (cf. 1Corinthians 15:28; Ephesians 1:23). It is really about interior surrender, a Gospel precept presented in a fresh manner.

I heartily recommend both of these books. I am currently reading A Sunlit Absence, which is both delightfully deep and absolutely accessible for anyone interested in prayer and contemplation (which everyone should be!).

Here is an excerpt from the first pages of the book which neatly summarize his overall theme:

Though this grounding union "in which we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28) is unshakable, one of the characteristics of the human condition is that we spend many decades of our lives in sheer ignorance of this. The reason for our ignorance ... is the constant inner noise and chatter that creates and sustains the illusion of being separate from God. ... This sense of alienation or separation is generated by blind and noisy ignorance that insinuates itself in the surface regions of our awareness.

Our culture for the most part trains us to keep our attention riveted to this surface noice, which in turn maintains the illusion of God as a distant object for which we must seek as for something we are convinced we lack. One of the great mysteries of the contemplative path is the discovery that, when the veils of separation drop, we see that the God we have been seeking has already found us, knows us, and sustains us in being from all eternity.

The practice of contemplation quiets the noise that goes on in our heads and allows inner silence to expand. ... [Still,] though we feel drawn to interior silence, what we find when we turn within is a strong headwind of distractions. There is a charactertistic, dominating tendency to identify with these thoughts: we think we are these thoughts and feelings. .... [In contemplation,] gradually we learn that we are not these thoughts and feelings that come and go any more than we are the weather that comes and goes. We may indeed prefer a certain type of weather, but we are not the weather.

The opposite of the contemplative life is not the active life but the reactive life: highly habituated emotional styles and lifestyles that keep us constantly reacting to life like victimizing victims, ever more convinced that the videos that shape our awareness are in fact true. The life of stillness gradually heals this split and leads us into wide open fields where buried treasure lies (Matthew 13:45-46).

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Healing faith

Sunday, July 1, 2012
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time—B

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
2Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
Mark 5:21-43

“Show me where it hurts,” a concerned parent or physician may say to an ill or injured child, who then moves his or her hand to the trouble spot. With that knowledge, the parent or physician touches and examines the area to assess the problem and apply a remedy.

There are numerous references in today’s Gospel to physical touch and healing. “Come lay your hands on” my daughter, Jairus pleads with Jesus. Meanwhile, the crowd “pressed upon him.” An ill woman is compelled to “touch his clothes.” Jesus takes Jairus’ dead daughter “by the hand” and restores her to life.

Given the social circumstances and religious customs of the time, all this touching of and by Jesus has enormous spiritual implications. By touching Jesus, the hemorrhaging woman rendered him ritually unclean and unable to worship in the temple. By touching the dead body of the 12-year-old girl, Jesus rendered himself ritually unclean. Yet both are cured. The power of God overcomes illness and death, the common human condition that is the result of humanity’s turning away from God.

God breaks through all barriers to restore humanity to its rightful relationship with him and one another. So, we are compelled to press upon him, touch him and be cured.

But where is he? How do we find him? How can we touch him?

We can’t.

Instead, he touches us. God became man, placed himself amid the pressing crowd of humanity, and took on our indignity to restore our dignity. As with Jairus’ daughter, Christ takes each of us by the hand and says, “Arise.” How? In prayer, in the Eucharist, in Confession and all the Sacraments, in the Word of God, in the life and tradition of the Church, in the love of Christ that we share with one another. Through these means, God touches us, heals us, calls us to new life.

Yes, the world and the Church are filled with problems, with scandals, with sins. For now, the wheat and the weeds grow together (cf. Matthew 13:25-30). But God is in our midst, asking us where it hurts, touching us, offering us hope and healing. It’s there for the taking. It’s free. All the rest will eventually fall away.

In the meantime, only one thing is required, and Jesus explicitly spells it out in today’s Gospel. What does he say to both the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus?

“Your faith has saved you.”

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

While we can pray and hope for physical cures, for earthly miracles, Jesus is offering us something much greater—someone much greater: himself. It is through his touch—in Word, Sacrament, prayer, the life of the Church, in charity—that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity leads us to eternal life, to a share in his divinity. All through the faith that God alone can give the heart that is willing to receive it.

In his weekly Angelus address today, Pope Benedict XVI stated all this much better than I ever could. He says:

“These two stories of healing are an invitation for us to overcome a purely horizontal and materialistic view of life. So often we ask God to cure our problems, to relieve our concrete needs—and this is right. But what we should ask for even more is an ever stronger faith, because the Lord renews our lives; and a firm trust in his love, in his providence that does not abandon us.”

“Show me where it hurts,” God tells his children.

The Divine Physician takes us by the hand and says, “Be cured of your affliction.”

God touches us, and like a parent soothing a frightened child, whispers softly:

“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”