The ultimate healing

In one of the gospel passages for weekday Mass last week was healing of the paralytic man whose friends cut through the roof to lower him into the room with Jesus. Jesus’ initial response was “Child, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5) We often think of Jesus healing the sick physically, so this account becomes an important reminder of Jesus’ mission.

In times past, physical maladies were often equated with sinning; the worse the sickness, the greater the transgression. It was seen as God punishing those who did wrong. While we no longer believe that to be the case, God continues to allow sickness and suffering to affect change to lead to His Kingdom. Sickness can still be a powerful sign of the corruption of creation from original sin. 

When Jesus healed the paralytic man by forgiving his sins, He healed the sickness that was at the root of the man: his broken relationship with God. The physical healing was secondary and the result of the repaired bond. When we repent of our sins and turn back to God who forgives  us, we are changed. Like the paralytic, we rise from our old way of life, walking and doing what God calls us to do.

When we pray for a person suffering illness, we often pray for his or her physical healing, just like the friends of the paralytic man. It’s only natural since we live in a physical world. However, that healing is only temporary, since this life does not last forever. If the person we are praying for passes on from this life, we may think that our prayers have gone unanswered. Viewing it not from a temporal perspective but a spiritual one, our prayers have indeed been answered. The ultimate healing occurred when the person’s soul returned to the presence of God. Instead of praying for a specific outcome, we should pray that individual accepts the care of Jesus, so that He can ensure healing that will have the most benefit for the soul.

Jesus’ ultimate mission was to heal the fracture between God and man. In His birth, life, death and resurrection, He covered every realm of man’s existence — physically and spiritually, so that through His grace and mercy, we have the opportunity to spend eternity with Him. 

Just a word

With a headline of “By comparison, homilies are not too long,” I was intrigued to read the article in a recent edition of The Catholic Virginian. The article discussed comparisons, based on Pew Research of the length and the topics various Christian religions use in the homily or sermon.

Unlike the Catholic Mass, most Protestant services focus on the sermon, with average length ranging anywhere from 24 minutes to 54 minutes, according to the data from the research. The average for a Catholic homily is only 14 minutes. As Protestants don’t believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecration of the Eucharist, it’s logical that the next important thing to focus on is the Word of God from Scripture. I’ve noticed that the Presbyterian Church around the corner from me usually advertises the sermon topic on the signage board several days before Sunday.

All homilies or sermons can be moments of teaching. In the Catholic faith, the priest or deacon may give instruction on the season, the feast day being celebrated, or the readings of the day. Homilies can give context to the ancient customs and how to apply God’s Word to our modern lives. While the average Catholic homily may be short now, that wasn’t always the case. In previous centuries, especially when most people didn’t read, the homily was a key way for people to learn and grow deeper in their faith. While the homily can and still does strengthen our faith, the plethora of Bible studies and commentaries, stories on the lives of the saints and the saints’ own writings also provide us opportunities to grow deeper in faith in addition to attending Mass.

One of the excuses commonly used for not attending Mass is that it’s boring, with people often citing the priest and his homily.  But with the homily taking up only a small amount of time in the Mass, why would people let such a short amount of time limit them from building their relationship with God by attending Mass and partaking in the Eucharist? For those who face this dilemma, perhaps one alternative is asking God to speak to them through the homily? If they’re listening for God, they may just hear the homily totally differently than if they were listening out of politeness, or just feigning to listen. I’ve visited churches when the homily, or part of it, was used to discuss funds or the time and talent opportunities. Since I was not a regular parishioner, I see those as moments when I can ponder what jumped out to me during the readings and or just soak up being in the presence of God. Even when the priest is teaching something I already know, I find it a helpful reminder and a unique opportunity to see the topic from a different perspective.

At the very least, the homily is time to prepare yourself for receiving the Eucharist. After hearing the Word of God through the scriptures, the homily can help you reflect on God’s will for you and how you can welcome His Most Precious Body and Blood to strengthen you for your mission to bring His Kingdom into the world. 

What a gift!

Christmas is the gift-giving season; from the December 6th feast of St. Nicholas to the celebration of the Epiphany a month later on January 6th, there are many opportunities  for giving. The term gift is used so much, but what does it really mean?

As a word, gift has been in the English language since the 12 century. According to Merriam-Webster, a gift is “something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation.” While that definition does make sense, there are a lot of words in that definition that could also be broken down a bit further. In seeing the word voluntarily, I immediately think of the word volunteer, which shares an etymology, although the words developed at slightly different times. Some of the definitions include: proceeding from one’s own choice, intentional, and uncoerced. However, I think my favorite definition of the word is: done of one’s own free will. Digging deeper into the word transferred, definitions like to convey or to pass seem to fit within this definition, but I was surprised to see it can also mean transform/change as well as to print or copy from one surface to another.

This season there may have been gifts we really liked and others that we may, or perhaps have already returned! Many of these may have been part of a gift exchange, where one person gifts another and receives a gift in return. While I would hope we don’t expect gifts from others this season, it’s almost hard not to expect some sort of “compensation” or gift in return for one we give another. However, our gift giving is supposed to be a reflection of God’s gifts to us: our life, our free will, and His Son as our Savior. 

God does not make us do anything, but He does ask us to participate in bringing His Kingdom to our world. He has given us the free will to say “Yes” or “No,” each having its own benefits and challenges. If we say Yes to God, He will reward us, either in this life or the next, and most likely both! However, doing God’s will may make life a bit difficult, since the culture encourages us to do the opposite. If we say No to God, it may seem that we’re in control and writing our own life story. It may even feel like we are succeeding, but in the end, we are living away from God and not taking the opportunity to have a relationship with Him. We also risk saying a final No to spending our eternity with Him. If we are mirroring God’s gift giving, it can transform and change us. We’ll be thinking of those receiving our gifts,  as we intentionally selecting the gift specifically for each recipient. As God has bestowed precious gifts to us, so we can convey meaningful gifts to each other that bring us all closer to Him.  

The gift we all celebrate this season is Jesus, God’s Son becoming man to be our Savior and repair the damaged relationship mankind has with God due to original sin. Jesus is a gift, freely given, uncoerced and without expectation of compensation. The choice is ours to either receive and accept The Gift or refuse and ignore it. 

Mary at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, Washington DC

Just say yes

Welcome to the third decade of the second millennium! We begin this year and decade as we do all of them, by celebrating the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The Church holds Mary up as a role model for us, even obliging us to attend Mass.

While there are many feasts and solemnities throughout the liturgical calendar, there are only a handful that require Catholics to attend Mass. As we begin the new year, it makes sense for us to start by invoking God’s blessing on us, and what better way than the Mass? Yet the Church does not ask us to celebrate the new year, but to celebrate the Mother of God. Eight days ago we celebrated the birth of Mary’ son, Jesus, so why wait to celebrate her motherhood? Christmas is celebrated for a full eight days in the Church calendar, known as the octave of Christmas, while the days beyond that through the feast of Jesus’ baptism is known as the Christmas season. The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, seems to bring the intensive Christmas focus to a full-circle conclusion.  After all, we wouldn’t have Christmas without Mary’s “Yes” to God.

Mary may have been aware of some of the hardships her fiat would bring her, like Joseph’s reaction, not to mention those in her small town and their possible treatment of her. Yet she trusted in God to see her through. Perhaps it was the reflection of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth that gave her strength to stand at the foot of the cross 33 years later. Her relationship with God was total trust, total commitment, and total love. God rewarded her trust, not by making everything easy for her, but by giving her what she needed to complete her mission as Mother of God, starting with the protection by Joseph.

As we begin this decade, let us ask Mary, as our spiritual mother, to help us say yes to God’s will for us and to notice and give thanks for the help He sends our way.

Celebrating with music

Merry Christmas! It’s finally here and it’s time to celebrate! One of the ways we do this is by singing Christmas carols. We all have our favorites, based on what we heard as we were growing up. Many of these songs, like our faith, go beyond nations and become universal.

Perhaps one of the most iconic Christmas carols is Stille Nacht, or as we know it in the U.S., Silent Night. This lullaby carol is just over 200 years old and debuted in 1818 at a Christmas Eve Mass in Austria. I’ve heard versions in Spanish, Noche de paz, as well as Polish, Cicha noc, and it is said to have been translated into 140 different languages! The slow rhythm of the song, and the softness of the words, make it an ideal lullaby and reminds us that Jesus, as a newborn baby, was just as helpless as any other. 

My favorite is Joy to the World, as it is an exciting and celebratory song. It’s almost at the total opposite end of the scale to Silent Night, as it’s fast pace and message is not something to sing to a baby, but rather shared to others with excitement. This song is 300 years old, written in English in 1719. While it is sung at Christmas, it’s not about Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, but rather His second coming. It makes a wonderful conclusion to advent, since that also prepares us not just for Jesus’ first coming, but to also look forward to His second coming. 

From Angels We Have Heard on High which is about the shepherds encounter with the divine, to We Three Kings, about the magi visiting Jesus, from fast and jubilant to soft and slow, there are many carols to express our Christmas perspective. I hope your favorite is played at Mass so that you can sing along and fully participate in welcoming Jesus.

Coming

I remember my parents’ response when I was young and they would call me to dinner or whatever. I would respond with, “I’m coming” and they would reply, “So is Christmas!” To a youngster, even in December, Christmas always took a long time coming, and sometimes to parents too!

Jesus promised He would come again. The early Christians thought that it was imminent, but over 2,000 years later we still need to learn a thing or two about God’s timing. With Advent we are given the opportunity to practice preparing for His future coming while celebrating His first coming. In the time between the two there are many generations that live and pass. For these, Jesus second coming is that at the end of their lives. It may not be as nice a topic to think about as baby Jesus lying in a manger, yet it is one we will need to face, sooner or later. 

My family experienced the passing of my uncle and my aunt in consecutive days this Advent. For them, Christmas came early this year. It’s just a week away to the calendar date for Christmas, and I can’t help but think about them and how they experienced the true meaning of Christmas. As I keep them and their families in my prayers, their passing has made Christmas so much more real this year. Christ comes; that is what our faith is all about. Like the shepherds and the magi, we seek Jesus now, so that when He comes again, it will be like welcoming a good friend that we are excited to spend time with, and that being all of eternity. The wonder and joy that Christmas is on earth will be beyond whatever we can imagine in heaven, since we will be with Jesus.  

This last week of Advent may pass very slowly for some and for others all too quickly. But no matter what happens, we will welcome Jesus into our lives as we celebrate Christ’s Mass*. It’s time to make haste and make ready for the coming of the Lord. Will you be ready?

*Christmas is derived from the Old English of Christ’s Mass, that is the Mass celebrating Christ’s birth.

Waiting and joy

It never ceases to bring a smile to my face when I pull up to my home and Vera, my cat, is in her sentinel stance looking out the window for my arrival. Her posture may change depending on if the blinds are up or if they are pulled low, but there is always enough space for her little face to peer out in watchfulness. Even if I’m gone for a short time, and she has a full belly, it’s a very rare occasion when she is not actively waiting for my return. I realized the other day that I have started looking for her in the window, as I’m driving up. I started to ponder what her watchfulness can teach me about advent.  

Waiting does not sound active, but the degree of attentiveness when one is waiting can make it a participatory activity. When one’s eyes, ears, mind, and body are tuned to the pending arrival, it is, indeed, active. When we are using our senses fully, our saturated spirit can’t help but explode in joy when we finally behold the person. For the arriving person, seeing valuable time was spent in eager and active anticipation stirs up the bond of kinship. For me, if traffic is bad or I’m feeling cranky, when I see Vera waiting for me, all that melts away. There is definitely joy in the arrival, but what about in the waiting?

Actions are choices and when we choose to actively wait, the precious time spent is an investment in the relationship we have with the expected person. In a way, we borrow the anticipated joy of seeing the person as we wait, which helps us stay focused for the arrival. After all, if the arrival is something we are dreading, we would probably find 101 tasks to occupy our time in distraction. Active waiting also requires us to be ready, otherwise our time would be spent on the tasks that have to be completed prior to the arrival. 

We can always practice waiting for Jesus in every Mass we attend. Each Mass is like a little Christmas, since Jesus becomes present as the bread and wine are consecrated into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus. Do we wait with eager anticipation, listening attentively to the Liturgy of the Word and keeping our eyes focused on the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist?  Do we welcome Jesus the moment we receive His Precious Body and Blood? Are we filled with joy as we share prayer time after we receive Him? 

Perhaps as we see the rose-color candle lit in the advent wreath this weekend at Mass, it can remind us to practice active waiting and rejoice that Jesus is coming soon.