February 5, 2012
Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Job 7:1-7; First Corinthians 9: 16-23; Mark 1:29-39
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus came into our house? If he approached us, and reached down to us, and lifted us up? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he healed us of our own fevers, of our anxiety, our sadness, our fear?
But he does.
Sometimes we feel like Job in the reading for today. Our days are drudgery, empty and meaningless, “swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,” “without hope.” Sometimes we look up at the night sky and we think about all the stars and all the planets and we feel so small. He calls each star “by name,” the Psalmist tells us today. But how can that be? How can any one of us matter at all?
Under the weight of all this, the gospels seem like fairy tales, odd little stories told by people long ago.
But the stories of the gospels aren’t just stories. They’re lenses, they’re tools, they’re windows. What they describe isn’t ancient. It’s new. Jesus didn’t just live and he just didn’t die. He rose from the dead and he ascended into heaven and then he sent his spirit into the church and into the whole world. He took everything up into himself and then he broadcast it out again, so that now he is everywhere, he is in all things, and he has always been everywhere and in all things. “In him all things in heaven and on earth were created,” Colossians says, “things visible and invisible. All things have been created through him and for him. In him all things hold together.”
And this creation is still going on. We may imagine that it was finished long ago, says Teilhard de Chardin, but it wasn’t. “It continues still more magnificently, and at the highest levels of the world,” and we are a part of it, “we serve to complete it, here and now, even by the humblest work of our hands.”
Jesus leaves the synagogue today, he leaves the church, and he comes into peoples’ homes. He enters all the nearby villages. He is present, Mark says, throughout “the whole of Galilee.” He rises early and he goes out into the desert, he watches the sun come up, because he knows that God is here, too, in the hills and in the sky, in all the beauty of the earth.
The role of the Church, Pope Benedict says, “is to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality for the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host.” This, the Pope says, is “the great vision” of Chardin, this vision of a “true cosmic liturgy.”
The Eucharist, in other words, isn’t something that just takes place here at St. Mary’s. What happens in the mass is that we are opened to the reality that is always, always true. We are changed, or can be. We are made aware. Every Sunday we bring up the gifts, the work of our hands, of our week, and this bread and this wine is brought to the altar and blessed and broken, and then it is given back to us again, as it was the week before, and the week before--we take it in our hands--and then we go away again, into the parking lot and into our lives, being who we already were, being the body of Christ, because that’s our name. That’s literally true. The mass is never ended. Not if we go in peace. Not if we love and serve the Lord.
And this is why the new program from the Paulists, “Living the Eucharist,” is so important. It’s a six week program for Lent, to guide small groups towards a deeper understanding of the mass. It’s a very good program, with very good, structured materials, and the archdiocese has adopted it for all the parishes in Western Oregon. The archbishop is urging all of us to become a part of it, and I am too. The signups are in the bulletin today. All the information you need is in the bulletin.
The best thing about it for me is that each of the six group sessions is grounded in the ancient practice of Lectio Divina, divine reading. The program teaches you how to do it, it guides you, and the key to Lectio is the step called meditatio. You slowly read aloud the gospel for that upcoming Sunday and let the words invoke in you whatever memory or longing. You don’t analyze it. You free associate. You don’t think. You imagine. And the idea isn’t to focus on what happened a long time to ago. The astonishing claim of mediatio and of Lectio is that these stories are happening now, that whatever the gospel is describing is true in your life, too, at this very moment, and that the words and images of the readings can be used as a way of looking at your life and seeing this. Lectio expands our understanding of miracle: not just that Simon’s mother in law was healed or anyone was healed or any storm stilled or crowd fed. We don’t need to prove that or worry about that one way or the other. The miracle is now. We are being healed, our storms are being stilled. In our village. Throughout all of Corvallis. Who says there aren’t any burning bushes anymore? We just have to know how to see them. “By virtue of the Creation, and still more, of the Incarnation,” says Chardin, “nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”
A friend put it to me this way in an email. His goal during Lent is to deepen his experience of communion, not just at mass, but everywhere, “to be in communion,” he said, with “every moment.” I’d much rather “live in my head,” he said, but he is committing himself to a deeper discipline: to living in reality.
The other day at OSU I got a little angry with another friend and colleague. We were standing on the stairs before classes, talking about a particular issue, and I let my irritation show. I had to go and teach, but afterwards I walked down the hall to my friend’s office and knocked on the door. She turned around in her chair, smiling, and I started to apologize. But she shook her head, and she took my hand in both of hers, and looking up at me she said, “Chris, it’s OK. It’s OK. Just be yourself. Just be yourself.”
Jesus does come to us, and he does take our hand, and he does forgive us and love us. Every day. We have all been given what St. Paul calls “a stewardship,” and that gift is our own brief lives. We just have to be ourselves, which of course is all we can ever be. History has been abolished. Time has been abolished. Distance has been abolished. As the Paulists put it in their brochure for this program, we need to “renew our experience of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, as a mystery to be believed, a mystery to be celebrated, and a mystery to be lived.” A mystery: something we can’t reduce to magic or to measurement. And a mystery to be lived, on the stairs, not just on the altar, in our offices and our kitchens and our bedrooms, not just in the pew.
Last week Fr. Ignacio preached on the authority of the Church, and he was exactly right. The Church, he said, is flawed, it’s even corrupt sometimes, but through all that the Spirit still speaks and the Spirit still moves, as the Spirit still moves in us, despite our own personal sinfulness. This is the authority of the Church: the authority of our lives, of our deepest hopes and intuitions. This is the authority of the Eucharist: the authority of the world, of the universe, of all that is and was and ever shall be.
This is where is where the Lord is, at communion--and everywhere else we live and move and breathe: He is in our hands.