Nice day in Boston. Cannot imagine the suffering of the people down in D.C. and surrounding suburbs who are enduring the after effects of the storm on Friday night: downed trees, no electric power and temps over 100. We remembered them in prayers at Mass a few minutes ago.
1 July 2012
Wis 1:13-15, 2:23-24
2 Cor 8:7,9, 11-13
One of the most spectacular choruses in Handel's Messiah is a study in contrast. In the superb recording by Boston Baroque it begins with a short minor chord on the organ after which the chorus sings a cappella: "Since by man came death, since by man came death." Then the organ and orchestra explode into joy as the chorus proclaims: "By man came also the resurrection of the dead" three times. Another somber chord leads into another a cappella passage: "For as in Adam all die, for as in Adam all die." That is followed by another explosion of rejoicing as organ, orchestra and chorus proclaim: "Even so in Christ shall all be made alive" four times. This contrast is apparent in today's readings.
The first reading began with "God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living." God is not a sadistic marionetteer who induces personal tragedy in random fashion. Nor is God a benign magician who guides a desperation pass into the arms of a receiver in the end-zone. Both ends of this continuum represent a faith that is fit only for three year-olds.
God created the world for humankind. God created us in His own image to be imperishable. We promptly rejected the gifts of that creation--we continue to reject the gifts of that creation--for the hubris of being completely self-determining. Thus death entered the world. And so it remains: hubris, sin and death. But then we see hope in today's long Gospel reading.
It would be easy to spend most of a semester on this particular Gospel passage. Faith, death, ritual impurity, the significance of a 12 year-old girl and a 12 year duration of blood flow. Sociology, medicine, theology, philosophy and more, all wrapped up in one reading.
In the gospel we hear what is sometimes called a "Markan Sandwich", the beginning of a narrative, then an interruption by another self-contained narrative, and the conclusion of the first narrative. The themes uniting both are faith and the most dire forms of ritual impurity: menstrual blood and death.
The woman was excluded from full-participation in the land of the living by her chronic state of ritual impurity. That state was due to what today is called dysfunctional uterine bleeding. She was not only continuously bleeding but she was also infertile; itself a great curse. Merely being touched by her, unintentionally, as when she waded into the crowd, or intentionally, as when she touched Jesus, would transmit that ritual impurity. That contagion of impurity was a very bad thing for all concerned. In the situation of the young girl Jesus risked ritual impurity by touching her dead body. Of course today we are much too sophisticated to believe in ritual impurity. We are too modern to believe that contact with another individual could defile or contaminate us. Yeah, right!
Try being a smoker. Banished to the physical margins, a portico, a store overhang, the back porch, and being treated with utter disdain by a certain self-righteous tribe. Suggest that animals have their place, a place that does not equal that of humans, and one may be castigated or accused--horror of horrors--of being a "speciesist," whatever that might mean. Are you against abortion? Would you rather not kill grand pop because he is demented? Don't admit that at a cocktail party in Cambridge. "I could never ever socialize with someone with such unenlightened views" would be a plausible retort. We still believe in ritual impurity. We call it by other names but we still believe in it.
"Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead." We heard this reiterated in the Alleluia verse: "Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel."
He offers that life to all of us through faith, the faith of the woman who had heard about Jesus, a woman who was sufficiently daring to mingle with a crowd to whom she could impart her impurity, to risk touching Jesus' clothing so that she might be healed. He offers that life to us through the faith of the little girl's father who was willing to endure the crowd's ridicule to seek help for his daughter.
Jesus offers us the same. He offers us the same healing in the sacraments of the Church: in baptism that cleanses us from original sin and begins our journey into full communion in the Church, in confession that removes the stain of the sins we consciously choose to commit, and in the Mass where we are privileged to hear His word and receive His body and blood.
In light of this great gift we can only sing with the psalmist:
"You changed my mourning into dancing:
O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks."
The photos below were taken in antique stores in Australia. I enjoy antique stores for photos because of the museum-like experience without the fussiness or the guards.
This is the outside of a combined free-range pig farm, restaurant (that serves a lot of pork) and antique store. The place is midway between Port Lincoln and Coffin Bay in South Australia. That particular field trip remains one of my favorite memories of the time spent in Port Lincoln at St. Mary of the Angels.
Inside one finds an old bicycle suspended from the ceiling.
And there was a typewriter. I learned to type on a next-generation version of this.
Some old office supplies. Not certain I would put the ink into one of my fountain pens.
And finally some of the progenitors of my Olympus E-510 camera.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD