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June 22, 2015 | Volume 90 Number 17

COLUMNS

Believe as you Pray »

In Light of Faith »

photo: Genevieve M. McQuade

believe as you pray

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 28, 2015

Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Ps 30:2, 4-6, 11-13
II Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15
Mark 5:21-43 or Mark 5:21-24, 35b-43

Fear grips us when faced with very serious illness. It seems that our life stands still when confronted with the possibility of incapacity or death.

It’s as if a long night envelops us. Our welfare is threatened. Other concerns are pushed to the back burner until they force their way for need of our attention.

Our trust in God is tested; our hope, challenged. Through this lens, we crave, we pray, we search for the best of all possible outcomes.

Many have been, or are, in this situation right now.

Long ago, there was a synagogue official named Jairus. His twelve-year-old daughter was near death. Frantic, he pleaded with Jesus to lay hands on her to save her. Like Jairus, we pray for God’s intervention for renewed, healthy life, not expecting more than healing.

Jesus did far more. The child had already died before Jesus arrived at her home, but once there, he raised her back to physical life. And a woman with the hemorrhage (in the longer reading) was healed as well.

Is this passage simply about wonderful events of reestablished earthly lives? What else could it signify for us?

What about restored spiritual life? How often does life-draining sin stalk us like a creeping illness? How close do we come to spiritual death?

The Wisdom passage says: “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living; but by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it,” meaning a spiritual death in which we can lose eternal life.

Were it not for Jesus’ resurrection, we’d certainly be lost forever.

Our psalm captures the thought: “O LORD, you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.” Psalm 30 joyfully says, “I will praise you, LORD, for you have rescued me.” We too should praise God for our rescue.

Our second reading from II Corinthians echoes Jesus’ love for us: “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

The Son of God became man, leaving his superlative home for our needy world, to save us from “the pit” of despair or worse — everlasting separation from God. It’s all about God’s love expressed by his mercy towards us.

Pope Francis recently said, “He comes to save us from the condition of weakness in which we live. And his help consists in making us grasp his presence and his closeness.”

Jesus’ nearness to the little girl and presence to the woman with the hemorrhage brought about the best possible outcomes for them physically, mutually coupled with the faith of the father and the woman. The effect of transforming faith is like light at the end of a tunnel.

Besides, we still have his presence and closeness today in our sacraments, and in the Word of God and the Body of Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Like our psalm proclaims: “At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing; Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me; O LORD, be my helper.” What’s even more spectacular is being saved from an eternal death, the best of all possible outcomes.

A long night is over.

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in light of faith

Time Out

Apart from Mary, the Mother of God, John the Baptist is the only saint whose birthday is celebrated by the Church.

Although June 24 has been designated the Solemnity of the Nativity of John the Baptist, I find the real stars of the day are Zachariah and Elizabeth. This faith-filled couple has long been a source of inspiration for me. Their story is one with which we are all familiar.

Elizabeth is barren and advanced in age. One day while her husband, Zachariah, is in the temple fulfilling his priestly duties, the Archangel Gabriel appears to him and announces that his wife is to have a child.

Given the circumstances, Zachariah’s first response is to doubt this could happen and as a result, he is struck dumb.

For many years I considered this an unusually severe punishment for what seemed like a pretty natural response to an unlikely conception. However, when I look at the sequence of events that followed, I have come to a new understanding and a better appreciation for what transpired.

Once I began to view Zachariah’s imposed silence, not as a punishment, but as a period of quiet listening, it took on a new significance.

As Zachariah watched the contour of his aging wife’s body change from month to month, could there not have been a change taking place within him as well? I suspect that his original doubt, followed by feelings of fear and frustration, eventually gave way to a profound sense of wonder.

As a priest, Zachariah was privileged to enter the Holy of Holies, but as the angel’s announcement became reality, he was able to observe the workings of the Holy of Holies first hand in a way he could not have imagined.

How could anyone not be changed by such an experience?

This change is evidenced by Zachariah’s humble disposition after John’s birth. His acquiescence to his wife’s choice of a name, even though it disregarded the popular practice of naming children after a family member, is a reflection of the interior change that had taken place in this faithful servant of God.

The months of Elizabeth’s confinement had served as an opportunity for him to listen to God’s hidden communication, and he was changed.

The transformative action that took place in the quiet of his heart became apparent when Zachariah’s tongue was loose and he gave voice to the Benedictus, a song that is prayed every morning at the end of Lauds. This was no ordinary prayer, but an inspired work that came from one whose will had become one with the will of God.

Truly, this Old Testament priest has much to teach us about the importance of silence and the art of listening.

Silence and listening do not come easily. We are surrounded by noise. Simple activities, such as washing dishes, mowing lawns or raking leaves that in by-gone days were done by hand are now done by machines.

The hum of machinery is everywhere until it seems we are addicted to noise. Car radios, background chatter from television sets and electronic devices of every variety compete for our attention.

If listening was difficult during a much simpler time, how much more difficult it is today in a culture that tends to offer an opinion on every topic under the sun.

Amid blogs, tweets and texting, instant communication has become the norm. Amid the noise pollution that has invaded our world, it has become increasingly more difficult to hear the voice of the Beloved.

If we believe God speaks in the silence of a listening heart, and I do, then it is imperative to make time to be quiet. We all need time and space to assess and reflect on the way we spend time, a most precious commodity.

Zachariah being silenced reminds me of parents putting their children in time out. It is not a punishment so much as an opportunity for the child to reflect on a poor behavior choice and discover a more appropriate one.

Obviously, God does not go around putting us in time out, but when life collides with personal dreams, plans and expectations, we need time to reflect and listen to the indwelling Spirit who writes straight with crooked lines.

God is forever speaking to us in the quiet of our heart, but how will we hear His voice unless we create a sacred space for listening?

There are many ways to do this. A weekend retreat is one way, but may not be possible for everyone. However, everyone can set aside at least 15 minutes a day for quiet listening.

If you can’t find 15 minutes a day, then it might be good to ask: Am I addicted to activity? Do I fill every waking moment with conversation and projects as an escape from my inner voice? Am I doubtful or afraid that God is speaking to me? And if so, why?

Recall Zachariah and how he was changed through silent listening. He listened to the events that were taking place. He listened to the conversation of Mary and Elizabeth as they discussed their miraculous pregnancies and he listened to his inner voice.

The key to a deepening spiritual life is to watch and listen to the events of our life. It is the way we discover that God is not in some remote place in heaven or on a distant mountain top, but in the middle of our life, regardless of how messy it may seem.

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