Saturday, November 20, 2010

...but only say the word...

Often, the familiar things in our lives become - well, normal.  They fade into the background and are the predictable, "beige" backdrop for the varied goings-on that each day reveals.  Every once in a while, though, some part of the mundane will burst to the forefront, dazzling us with fresh insight, new discovery, or broader understanding.

I was at Mass on Friday with the school kids.  Consecration was finished, the Agnus Dei had been sung, and Father lifted the host:  "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  Happy are those who are called to His supper."  We responded in one voice:  "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed."  And there it was.  Words spoken time and again, suddenly alive with new meaning.  "Say the word, and I shall be healed"...this is true.  I speak it in faith before approaching the altar to receive Holy Communion.  So then, the converse must be true as well.   "...and if you do NOT say the word, I can not be healed...."  My soul cannot be made whole but that He ordains it so.  None of the things that fill my day, whether they are noble or servile, bold or subtle, faithful or false, whether I am proud of them or ashamed, no word or deed will heal me.  The Latin word we translate as "healed" is sanabitur - sound, healthy, sensible, sober, or sane.  It is the word from which we take "sanitary" and related words.  This simple response in Mass is a reminder that our wholeness - our redemption - is only possible because He has spoken the word.  I imagine that the "word" is not unlike what was spoken to those who came to Jesus for healing:  "Your faith has healed you."

What a way to walk into my day!  The idea that nothing I will do or say will trump God's grace...that He has spoken the word, healed me, and permitted me to approach the altar and receive Him!  What can I do but offer all else that I have in faith?  Even my failures are redeemable if I repent.  It is at once humbling and empowering.  I pray that my memory of this is long, and that I can be obedient to the word...that I can always approach Him in faith, offer all that I have, and be healed by the complete outpouring of His redeeming love.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reflection on suffering, where words fail

Maybe rash isn't the right word, but it is perhaps the right image.  Very frequently in the last couple of weeks, I find myself saying that I will keep people who are near and dear to my heart in my prayers because of medical issues.  I am honored and blessed to know them all, and to bear them up in prayer is a joyful burden.  It is a burden to see pain and sickness, but these dear people teach me so much in their suffering - about joy, about dignity, about generosity, about self sacrifice, about faith, and about perseverance.  Though in most of these lives, their suffering is a private matter, for two in particular, their suffering is a very public matter indeed.  It is for this reason alone that I feel that I can share my reflections in this forum.  I do so with the utmost respect and humility; I am so utterly touched and humbled by them, and by the obvious light of Christ in them.

There are two elder priests in our community.  One is relieved of administrative duties due to ongoing illness, but remains active in ministry and as an advisor to the current pastor.  The other is nearing his 93rd birthday, and while officially 'retired', he appears to have misunderstood the meaning of the word.  They are very different men, and they are very different priests.  Somehow, though, the reality of Mass is more visible when they are struggling physically.  At Mass we bear witness to a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary, and enter into that mystery.  Eternity breaches time, and we are brought  into the Holy of Holies.  The priest celebrates the sacrifice in persona Christi - in the person of Christ.  To me, a suffering Christ - a slain lamb - is made infinitely more visible in his suffering servant.  A loving Christ, who wholly sacrificed himself, is made infinitely more visible in these dear men, who sacrifice themselves, against worldly wisdom, to bring Christ to us in the Eucharist.  What blissful agony in their eyes as they raise Him up!  Ecce agnus dei, qui tollis peccata mundi!  And as their words implore us to behold the Lamb of God, their lives demonstrate Him most eloquently.

It is the same for so many others I am blessed to know.  They clearly demonstrate the image of St. Paul.  He was given "a thorn in [his] flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment [him]."  There are debates about what Paul's "thorn" may have been.  A particular sinful habit, a physical ailment...I've even heard it suggested that it was an actual demon.  I don't care.  Far less important than the literal nature of Paul's "thorn" is the purpose it served.  Whether physical, behavioral, or spiritual, St. Paul's "thorn" was an instrument of humility.  It helped him keep perspective, reminding him that God's grace was sufficient for him, and that God's strength was made perfect in his (Paul's) weakness.  The Vulgate reads "infirmitate" - infirmity.  I pray God's healing in the lives of those I love, but I have come to recognize that sometimes, the answer is "no."  Sometimes, His purpose demands that we be broken or weak so that He can be visible in us.  It is difficult to grasp what eternal meaning lies in temporal suffering, but I believe in my very core that this is true:  His Grace is Sufficient.  And sometimes, the most impaired bodies house the most unencumbered souls.