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 in 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, not even the magnificent Flutie to Phalen pass at Miami, or, to think of it, the pass on 27 December that allowed Penn State to defeat Boston College. 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." A Markan sandwich begins with a narrative that is interrupted by a different self-contained narrative followed by 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. Uterine cancer? Firbroids? No clue. She was not only continuously bleeding; she was also infertile, something that was understood as a great curse. Merely being touched by her, intentionally or unintentionally, 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 disdain by a certain self-righteous tribe. Suggest that animals have their place, and it 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 Manhattan. "I could never socialize with someone with such unenlightened views" would be the sniffed retort. We still believe in ritual impurity. We call it by other names but we still believe in it. Because of ritual impurity this is probably not a good week to display a confederate flag on the porch.
"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. She risked being beaten for touching others. She took the risk to touch Jesus' clothing so that she might be healed. Jesus offers 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' miracles did not cause faith. They were driven by faith.
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 with the Church. He offers that healing in confession that removes the stain of the sins we consciously choose to commit. He offers that healing at Mass where we are privileged to hear His word and receive His sacred body and blood.
In light of this great gift we sing with the psalmist:
"Hear O Lord, and have pity on me;
O Lord, be my helper.
You changed my mourning into dancing:
O Lord, my God, forever will I give you thanks."
Am recovering from a miserable cold. It hit two days after I got home from Lorraine's funeral and laid me low for an entire week. The coughing was severe and exhausting. Sleep was difficult for several nights. Am now on the mend though chanting is still a bit dicey. However, I should be back to normal voice when I go to Regina Laudis in two weeks.
School has finally ended in Boston after all the make-up time for the snow days. I forgot that fact on Friday morning and, as a result, arrived at the convent for Mass rather early. NO SCHOOL BUSES!!!!!! Best part of summer.
The photos below are a study in color, shape, texture and light. They are closeups of the stained glass on the entrance ramp at St. Mary's Church in Plymouth, PA, my home parish. The last one is a quick snapshot of the area to give an idea of what the windows look like as it would be impossible to tell from the first photos.
Finally, the windows. These were done by Baut Studios in Swoyersville, PA, not too far from Plymouth. Baut is a longstanding family owned and run stained glass studio that has received commissions from all over the world including the Vatican. Magnificent work. The technique of embedding thick pieces of glass in metal, at times very thick and heavy metal, is one of their innovations.
Fr. Jack, SJ, MD