The Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 30, 2009
Deuteronomy 4:1-8 (The Israelites are handed the Law: "Do not add to what I command you nor subtract from it")
Psalm 15:2-5 (The just will live in the presence of the Lord)
James 1:17-27 (What A Christian Does, Revisited: "Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you")
Mark 7:1-23 ("...Things that come out from within are what make unclean")
And - James 5:1-20 (What A Christian Gives)
Over the course of my life, the month of August has mirrored the spectrum of emotion - all the way from the extroverted frivolity of Mardi Gras to the introspective desert of Lent. Named for an ancient Roman emperor, Augustus, who likened himself to a god (as is July, named for Julius Caesar - the two months inserted into the Western calendar), it has reminded me of late of how artificial, vain, and unreal the "real" world can be.
When I was in grade school, the new academic year began the day after Labor Day - somewhere between the 2nd and the 9th of September. Suddenly, and without so much as a "welcome back", school started shortly after August 20.
The weather in Chicago this past month went from the hottest day of the summer (95 degrees on 8/2) to among the coolest (65 degrees today) in a summer that basically ended before it started.
In Europe, August is seen as a month-long holiday. Here in America, August is the single month to which no holiday is assigned. (While there are no legal holidays in March or April, schools take "Spring Break" in March and Good Friday/Easter occurs at either the tail end of March or in April.)
Earl passed away July 30; his memorial service was on August 8. Since then I have been called to sing at four Catholic funerals. Among all that was the coming and passing of my first son nineteen years ago.
My wife and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary quietly - and still managed, like so many others, to get caught up in the train wreck that is The Real Housewives of (fill in the blank), and wondering how long Jon and Kate Gosselin (estranged parents of eight) will take potshots at each other in the media before the reality of what they have become cancels their "reality" TV series.
My mother was released from a five-day hospital stay - but she didn't get to go home. Instead, she is now in a convalescent care center (nursing home) to continue to manage physical therapy, aggravated by Parkinson's Disease.
I went to visit her the other day, after work. My dad was there with her. They were preparing a bulk mailing, putting address labels and stamps on newsletters. (Dad called it "occupational therapy.") I sense my dad's frustration, and yet he is there, managing to do something other than watch time pass. One friend of my mom's also happens to be a resident of the same nursing home. She was in the room with my mom and dad and me. She thinks she's going home soon, and kept mentioning it while I was visiting. But there's little doubt in my mind that the three of us agree, this woman isn't likely to be leaving the nursing home anytime soon. My mom's got a better chance of getting released before her, and I don't think Mom's going to be going anywhere for at least a couple of months.
People who minister to the sick, the elderly, and the bereaved have to shield themselves (think in terms of an invisible plexiglass enclosure) from the reality they see. This doesn't mean we are indifferent; nor do we ignore those to whom we minister. But it means having a firm support system in place. It means having a compassionate partner, spouse, or network of friends and colleagues with whom to share and debrief.
It's also very important to see that you've tuned up your spiritual engine. Prayer becomes more than a wish list, as well it should be. It becomes more than the hymns you sing or the sermon to which you did your best to hear.
The Word this weekend touches on all this.
Moses was about to "lay down the Law" as the Israelites came to the threshold of the Promised Land. Of particular note was that the Law as God gave it was rather complete - nothing was to be added to it or removed from it. The apostle James knew that there were differences in interpretation among believers, and sought - in simplest and clearest terms - to instruct the community toward progressing, rather than in idle speculation.
Jesus gives us yet another paradox, and that brings us to the "Signs for Our Times":
It is interesting to note that as we leave the Bread of Life Discourse that when the miracle of the feeding of the multitudes took place, no mention was made of anybody washing anything. We return to Mark's account to find a complaint lodged against Jesus and his disciples as they didn't go through the ritual of washing every last thing before sitting down to eat. Obviously washing had become more than just the tribal knowledge that doing so was important to prevent disease.
Jesus responds by saying that his (and God's) sense of cleanliness is holistic. Further, if the mind and spirit are not clean, the state of the body is meaningless.
With all the attention paid to washing hands to prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, with all the bitterness and anger being exchanged in town hall meetings across America "discussing" the "public option" in health care reform, this passage is indeed timely. If our leisure time is packed with Internet "What (fill in the blank) Are You?" surveys and waiting for the next celebrity wannabe to fall, are we not akin to another icon of ancient Rome, as spectators watching true Christians being thrown to the lions? Or Emperor Nero, playing his violin as the city of Rome burned?
There is a free "public option" for our spiritual health. It's available 24/7. It's called prayer.
Whether it is the recitation of common prayer, reflection on Scripture, or a few quiet moments pouring out your heart to God - these are our first and most important steps to remedy our ailments. Ultimately, if we are willing, we will be able to offer up virtually everything we do as prayer.
I have my moments. I'm no better at life than most of you. Lately I have understood the necessity of holistic cleansing in my life, and have renewed my commitment to do so, with prayer as a necessary step. Prayer for what I need. Prayer for what others need. Prayer to understand that my priorities are not necessarily God's.
Prayer works. It may not bring about the results you envision, but that does not mean it doesn't work. Sometimes that prayer is meant to help you stay on track, as it were, when the results don't meet the miracle.
In summary, Common Sense and the Law of God strongly recommend that you Pray Always...before leaving this room to resume work.