Today’s gospel (Mark 2:1-12) includes the dramatic and complex story of the paralytic whose friends, when they were unable to get him close to Jesus because of the crowd in a house, climbed the roof, removed tiles and lowered him into the room. Jesus said to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.” His words upset the scribes who began thinking blasphemy whereupon Jesus confronted them and things continue for a few more verses.
One can preach or write on any number of threads that make up the fabric of this narrative. The thread that is routinely ignored in homilies—most likely because the scribes’ reaction, the forgiveness of sins, and the nature of the confrontation are so rich for preaching—is the crucial role of the man’s four friends. Where would he have been without them? These men exerted themselves to carry him to Jesus and then, with considerable ingenuity, to get him up to the roof, remove tiles, and slowly lower him to the floor. These four men make one of the most underrated cameo appearances in all of scripture. Despite their anonymity they can, perhaps because of their anonymity they should, be role models for us.
They represent the community each of us needs around him or her self; the community in which each of us must be an active participant: the community of pray-ers. The community of those who help us through their prayer and, when needed, their actions, be it bearing us on a stretcher—metaphorical or actual—driving us to chemotherapy sessions, or being a silent presence when solitude is too difficult to bear.
Oftentimes at community Mass—in almost any religious community in which I’ve attended or celebrated Mass—one hears a petition to the effect: “For those for whom we’ve promised to pray; let us pray to the Lord.” Many pray daily for specific people and intentions. What greater gift is there? What about those who pray for us? Do we return the gift?
While waiting at Dulles for the plane to San Francisco in December a pilot for United Airlines stopped me. He noticed two things: my collar and the “Penn State” emblazoned on my jacket. A graduate of Annapolis he grew up in Western Pennsylvania and wondered if I was a Penn State alumnus. After a short chat, and before we continued in opposite directions, he asked my name so that he could add me to his prayer list. I was deeply touched.
Despite routinely hearing petitions for those for whom we’ve promised to pray I don’t think I’ve ever heard, “For those who have promised to pray for us; let us pray to the Lord.” Yet, that would be the perfect way to express our gratitude for those men and women whose prayers have lowered us through the roof into Jesus’ presence; for those who prayed for us when we were unable to pray ourselves.
We, like the paralytic, are all sinners. Yet, like the paralytic, our sins can be forgiven. May we be blessed with the kind of friends that he was, the kind of friends whose prayer makes that forgiveness possible by bringing us somehow into Jesus' presence when we can't get ourselves there.
The photos below include the entrance to the tertians’s wing at the house, the front yard, main chapel and main entrance at Canisius College and finally, my room. Apologies in advance to those of you in Boston digging out from the snow. I hope to get into downtown Sydney with the camera soon.