July 1, 2018
13thSunday of Ordinary Time
Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
When our little therapy dog comes home from a visit to a school or a nursing home, he curls up on the couch and sleeps for hours. It really takes it out of him—he’s only 9 pounds, 6 ounces.
I’ve seen it for myself during Dead Week, when Counseling and Psychological Services invites Welcome Waggers to campus and students line up at the MU to pet the dogs. It’s remarkable: these very sharp kids, these adults, kneeling on the floor and petting a dog, and how it calms them and settles them.
I think we all have that healing power in us. Even we human beings. We all have something inside of us that can flow out to others, as the power flows out of the body of Jesus today when the hemorrhaging woman reaches out and touches him. It’s an arresting detail: Jesus is aware “that power has gone out of him”; the woman feels it “in her body.” And I think the love and the compassion we sometimes feel in ourselves is that same power, too, the power of Christ, is Christ working through us, and we have to live our lives in such way that we can release this power. “For God formed us,” as the Book of Wisdom says today, “to be imperishable; / the image of his own nature he made us.”
We’ve all known people we just want to be around. I remember Father Jac Campbell, a Paulist priest we met after he was sent to the Newman Center at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, where I first taught years ago. He was a tall man with slicked-back black hair, Boston Catholic, Boston Irish, not the kind of guy you’d want to meet in a dark alley. In fact, he’d been exiled to Greensboro in a way, after he went into recovery for his alcoholism.
He was wonderful priest. He understood weakness, he understood people, and there was an authority in him, a power, and I know that power and that authority came from his faith. You can just tell, can’t you, when you’re around someone who really believes? It’s like we’re all the hemorrhaging woman and we’re all drawn, instinctively, towards the Christ we sense in certain people.
That’s how Jac was. He had the magnetism of the true person of faith. It wasn’t because of the things he said, though he said many wise and good things. It was because of who he was.
And this is why we come to mass, why we are Catholic, not because we’re attracted to ideas, not because we’re attracted to theories, but because we’re attracted to a person, and to the power of that person. The Person himself. The Lord himself.
This is all the archbishop is trying to do, in the small changes he has made in the way we celebrate the mass: to remind us that the Lord is here. Jesusis here.
In the early 1960s a college student wrote Flannery O’Connor, the great Catholic writer, an anguished letter about faith. He was struggling with doubt but longed to believe. O’Connor didn’t mince words. The effect of much of the thinking and writing in the twentieth century, she says, “has been gradually to turn religion into poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer and vaguer and more and more relative . . .and gradually we come to believe that God has no power, that he cannot communicate with us, cannot reveal himself to us, indeed has not done so, and that religion is our own sweet invention.” That’s your problem, O’Connor told this student. This is the structure of your thought.
But “I’m Catholic,” O’Connor says, “and I believe the opposite of all this. I believe what the Church teaches . . . that God has revealed himself to us in history and continues to do so through the Church, and that he is present (not just symbolically) in the Eucharist on our altars.”
A few weeks ago one of the Eucharistic Ministers told me that when she was holding the ciborium on the way to the altar it felt so heavy in her hands she was trembling. It felt, she said, like she was carrying a sleeping baby.
We can be too simple-minded about the Real Presence, we can be superstitious, we can see it as magic, not mystery, and that’s wrong. But we can also be too sophisticated, too nuanced, too casual. If Christ isn’t really present in the Eucharist we might as well just take a yoga class. If Christ isn’t really present in the Eucharist we might as well just join a book club or a political party.
And I don’t mean to limit that sense of the power of Christ in the Eucharist to the Eucharist understood narrowly, because we are the Body of Christ, too, Paul says, and he means it. Receive who you are, Augustine says. And then we go out in the world, and we behold the world and all that is in it, and we know that it, too, is filled with the presence of Christ, in the rocks and the trees and the little dogs—God “fashioned all things that they might have being,” in the words of the Book of Wisdom–and that next to the Blessed Sacrament the tall man with the slick-backed hair or the woman standing next to us at the crosswalk or even our own worst enemy, as C.S. Lewis would say, is the holiest thing we will ever see. We reverence the Eucharist here, wholly and completely, so that we can reverence the Eucharist everywhere else, in all things, wholly and completely, from the unborn child to the child at the border to the old and the lost and the infirmed.
Jesus comes to the home of Jairus, and that house becomes a tabernacle. And Jairus asks him to come not to deliver a sermon or debate a doctrine but to heal his child, to touch her, and Jesus in his great mercy does come and he does heal her. He takes her by the hand. “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul says, “that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” This was the gracious act of Jesus, on the cross and here in the house of Jairus and everywhere and always, to let his power flow out of him and into all of us. Ignoring all the commotion at the door, ignoring all the fruitless arguing, Jesus comes, and he takes the girl by the hand, and he says to her, rise, little girl, rise,and she does, she rises, and this, to go back to Paul, is what we should do. We should “excel,” he says, “in this gracious act” ourselves. We should give ourselves away.
You will soon receive his Body again—you will take it into yourbody, into your bloodstream.
Go, then. Go and bewhat you have received.
Take someone by the hand. Lift them up.