Saturday, June 27, 2009

Sickness and Healing

(13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B)

The Scriptures we hear today lead us to reflect on the mysteries of sickness and health, of illness and wellness. Everyone knows the experience of sickness, both in themselves and in the suffering of others. We know the tragedy of the terrible diseases that afflict those we love, and we are always aware of the fact that most of us will one day suffer through the last illness that will end in our death.

We automatically know that there is something wrong with this. It isn’t right that people suffer, that disease unjustly ends lives prematurely, and that people die. Sickness and death, in a way, are the simplest signs that there is something wrong with the world. We all know it in our hearts. People shouldn’t have to get sick, and shouldn’t have to die. The first reading today confirms this knowledge for us; the author of wisdom puts it simply: “God did not make death,’ but made all things “wholesome” and “man to be imperishable.”

So if God made everything wholesome and human beings to be imperishable, why do we get sick and die? Since God did not make death and does not will any creature to suffer, we know that sickness and death are part of the fallen state of the world. They are part of the fallenness of the world that derives mysteriously from, as Wisdom says, the “envy of the devil” and the disobedience and sin of our first parents. But here we have to be a little careful. Even though we know that sickness and death are part of the fallenness of the world that resulted from the original sin of our first parents, this does not mean there is a simple correspondence between sickness and personal sin for us as individuals. In other words, people do not suffer the punishment of illness in this life because of their individual sins. Instead, we all live together in an atmosphere of physical corruption and death because of the general sin of the world, and we suffer corporately on account of it.

This isn’t how God wills the world to be. God desires that his creatures be healthy and joyful. This is a large part of why we worship God for sending his Son into the world, because where God is there is only life and wellness. In Jesus the presence of divine wellness arrives among us. We see this in the two sandwiched parts of the gospel we hear today: The woman who had suffered for so long just had to touch Jesus’ clothes and she was healed. The little girl only had to receive Jesus’ word, and she rose again from death. Where Jesus is, there is only life and there is no room for sickness or death. This is why, for the Fathers of the Church, one of the favorite titles for Jesus was the “divine physician.”

This is why Holy Mass is such a sublime gift for us. In every Mass we hear Jesus speak the word that delivers us from death, just as it did for the little girl in the gospel today. In the Holy Communion we receive we are like the afflicted woman who reached out in faith to touch the Lord. She touched his clothes and Jesus’ healing power went into her body. We receive his Body and Blood and his healing power enters into our bodies and souls. One of the quiet prayers of the priest before Holy Communion expresses it so well: “Lord Jesus Christ, with faith in your love and mercy I eat your body and drink your blood. Let it not bring me condemnation, but health in mind and body.” The new, more accurate translation (which we should have soon) puts it even more strongly, calling Holy Communion the “healing remedy.”

As the afflicted woman pushed her way through the crowd just to touch the Lord, let us strive in prayer to seek his healing presence. And as Jesus entered the house of the little girl to bring her healing, so he enters the inner room of our hearts through Holy Communion. Let us welcome his healing arrival.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Body and Blood of Christ

(Corpus Christi, B)

Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, more commonly known as Corpus Christi. This day is traditionally observed on the second Thursday after Easter, sixty days after Holy Thursday, in order to make the connection with the institution of the Eucharist at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. But, as seems to be the sometimes unfortunate trend, our great moveable feasts migrate to the nearest Sunday. In any case, however, today is a day set aside to reflect on, appreciate, explore, and worship the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Here at Holy Mass we stand and kneel before, and even receive into our bodies, the true and real Body of Christ. This is Christ’s great gift to us, and it’s worth our attention and prayer.

When we talk about the Body of Christ, we mean first of all the historical, human body of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the Word of God made flesh. His human body and human soul were perfectly joined to the divine life of second Person of the Blessed Trinity, breathed forth from the Father from all eternity. We know from our most basic confession as Christians that the destiny of his human body was to be broken as a sacrifice on the Cross. But we also know that the breaking of his body and the extinguishing of his human life were not the end of the story. The same Body of Christ returned from the dead in the revelation of the Resurrection. The Scriptures are pretty insistent on this point: the historical, human body of Jesus of Nazareth is continuous with the Risen Body of the Resurrected Christ.

The Eucharist fits into this through its institution at the Last Supper. As we hear in the gospel today, on the eve of his Passion and death, Jesus identified his own body, soon to be broken in sacrifice, and his own blood, soon to be poured out on the Cross, with the bread and wine of that meal. In this, Jesus establishes both an eternal commemoration of his own self-sacrifice, and passes his own Presence as Risen Lord into our offering of that same commemoration. This is the mystery of the Eucharist for us: The Real Presence of the Resurrected Jesus, which we know is continuous with the physical body of the Incarnate Son of God, has passed into the consecrated bread and wine of Holy Mass.

In the Eucharist we see and touch Jesus risen from the dead just as the disciples did when the Resurrection was first revealed. And this shouldn’t seem so weird to us, because the wonder of the resurrected Jesus—which we have contemplated through this past Easter season—is the same as the wonder of the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. For example, we know from the Scriptures that the risen Jesus had a body that could be touched, and yet he also appeared in locked rooms and does not seem to have been confined by space and time. And so it is with the Most Blessed Sacrament: it is the Real Presence of Christ, but it is a Presence not limited in location. The risen Jesus, though it was really the same Jesus the disciples had known in his earthly life, was sometimes not immediately recognizable. Remember how Mary Magdalene didn’t know who he was until he called her by name? She thought he was the gardener! So it is with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Jesus is truly risen into the bread and wine we offer, and his Real Presence abides in them for our worship, but this isn’t something we can see with our physical eyes. We see the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist with our spiritual eyes. As with Mary, these eyes are opened when the Lord calls us by name through prayer. So let us always be praying in the Presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament, that the Lord may open our eyes to see him among us.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Blessed Trinity

(Trinity Sunday, B)

When it comes to our reflection upon and appreciation of the Blessed Trinity, so many times we give up so fast! We say, ‘Who can understand it?’ People like to say, ‘Well, it’s a mystery.’ That much is true. The Blessed Trinity is a mystery. In fact it is the Mystery. But though we can never comprehend this Mystery completely, this doesn’t mean we can never have some appreciation and understanding of what it means.

Even in theological school people give up on having a practical understanding of the Blessed Trinity. Every seminary student is taught the old ‘5,4,3,2,1,’ mnemonic for remembering trinitarian doctrine: In the Trinity there are five notions, four relations, three persons, two processions, one nature, and then, as is always added in comedic desperation, zero understanding.

It’s funny, but to me it’s a little sad. Let’s not give up on having some understanding of the Trinity! We can, brothers and sisters, come to an appreciation of Who the Blessed Trinity is and what He means for us. Not a grasp, a comprehension, mind you, but an appreciation. We can do this for at least for a couple of reasons. First, we are created in the image and likeness of God, so if God is a Trinity, so we can look for the image and likeness of the Blessed Trinity in ourselves. That’s the approach I took last year with the homily for today. But also, we must always remember that Sacred Scripture is the revealed Word of God. So if God is a Trinity, we can expect the Sacred Scriptures to reveal the Blessed Trinity. And so they do, but we have to look carefully.

In the first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses recalls to the people their great privilege of having God reveal Himself to them: “Did a people ever hear the voice of God speaking from the midst of a fire, as you did, and live?” How was God revealed to the people? God was in the voice and the fire. You recall the powerful scene from the book of Exodus that the Scriptures point to here, when God spoke to Moses in the burning bush. This is one of the most complete revelations of the Blessed Trinity in all of the Scriptures. For we believe that God is a superabundant love, and from all eternity God overflows into a perfect expression of Himself that we call the Word or the Son. The Word is ‘begotten, not made” as we pray in the Creed. This is the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word that is spoken from the burning bush, the Word through whom God creates the universe—“God said…and so it happened”—and the Word that became flesh in Jesus Christ.

The fire out of which the Word was spoken, the breath of God that carries the Word, this is Who we call the Holy Spirit. So there you have the Blessed Trinity. A dynamic overflowing of Love in which from all eternity there is Lover, Beloved, and the Love that binds them. But even in this, we haven’t reached the fullness of the good news and wonder for us.

Because God is a set of dynamic relationships—indeed, this is what we confess by our belief in the Blessed Trinity—this means that there is a way into God. Just as the love of husband and wife overflows creatively to include the new life of children, so in the human birth of Christ, the dynamic love of the Blessed Trinity expands to include us. This is what St. Paul is talking about in the second reading when he talks about “the Spirit of adoption.” By our baptism into Christ, by our faith, and by our communion with his humanity here at Mass, our lives are folded into the blessed life of the Trinity. We become daughters and sons in the Son.

With that in mind, think back to the burning bush for a moment. Recall what was amazing about the burning bush, that it was not consumed by the fire. And so it is with our adoption by the Holy Spirit into the Love of the Father and the Son. The life of the Blessed Trinity comes to dwell in us in such a way that it does not consume or displace our humanity. The gift and good news we have in Christ is that the dynamic Mystery of Love we call God has come to include us in its own life, in such a way that the Love of God delights to live in us as our love for each other.