Sunday, February 05, 2006

Once Upon a Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time . . .

(5th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 5 February, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Mark 1:29-39)

Do you believe in fairy tales? You know, those stories like Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast. Why do those stories have such longevity? Why are they still able to sell movies years after they are written, or fill the Broadway Shows season after season?

There is something about those stories that allows us to see that anything is possible. And every so often we read or hear about a story that sounds like something right out of a fairy tale, a real-life Cinderella Story. But did you ever think that something like that could happen to your mother-in-law?

In our Gospel this morning, St. Peter’s mother-in-law is sick with a fever, possibly on the point of death. The disciples tell this to Jesus; He immediately moves to her bedside, takes her by the hand, and lifts her up. “Then,” St. Mark says, “the fever left her and she waited on them” (Mark 1:31).

It sounds like something right out of Walt Disney, but it is more powerful than that because it’s not a fairy tale at all; it’s real. This happened; the Son of God literally walked into this woman’s house, took her by the hand, lifted her up and restored her to health!

And that was just the beginning. St. Mark tells us that before the day was through: They brought to him all whom were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door (Mark 1:32-33).

And Jesus healed them. It is quite a remarkable scene, but it was never meant to be just a story. The miracle that Jesus performs in the Gospel this morning is one that touches each of our lives; it’s a reality that we all experience as members of His Church.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “in the sacraments Christ continues to ‘touch’ us in order to heal us” (CCC, #1504).

Jesus knows each one of us personally, and He knows what we need; He made us, and He understands that we are made of body and soul, that we are spiritual, but that we also have physical needs.

His desire is to continue to reach out to us—body and soul—to take us by the hand and lift us up whenever we are in need. He does that in the sacraments that He has given to the Church.

In baptism, water is poured over our heads, physically, and our souls are cleansed of original sin; in the waters of baptism Christ touches us and we are given new life in the Holy Spirit.

Those of us who have been confirmed were marked with the sign of the cross on our foreheads, physically; the bishop made that sign with holy oil and said: “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit,” and we were given—at that moment—an invisible grace to fulfill more completely our baptismal call to holiness.

In the Eucharist that we celebrate here this morning, Christ is made physically present, His body and blood are made present here on this altar so that we can be fed with the Bread of Life. Christ desires here at this Mass to take us by the hand and lift us up. What a remarkable gift!

But we live in strange times. People today want the grace and the healing that Christ offers, but they do not necessarily want the sacraments through which that grace and healing are given. They want Christ and a personal relationship with Him, but they do not always want to draw close to His body, the Church.

That is never what Christ intended. Never does Christ separate our spiritual life—our spiritual relationship with Him—from our physical life and our relationships within the Body of Christ. The same One who reaches out and physically touches His people in the Scriptures, bringing them healing and strength, still reaches out to us in the sacraments of the Church. Our heart’s desire should be to receive that touch, and to embrace the One who is constantly reaching out to us.

In this Eucharist this morning, we are invited into the Cinderella Story that is more powerful than any fairy tale, because it is a story that is real; it has the power to change and transform our very lives. Might we enter more completely into that story, as Christ reaches out to us today, takes us by the hand, and lifts us up to Himself. Strengthened and nourished in the Eucharist, might we grow in our relationship with Christ, but also in all our relationships with the members of His Body, the Church.