Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label faith. Show all posts

How we should touch Jesus in the Eucharist

Mark 5:21-43 (13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year B)

A young girl was becoming impatient and antsy during Mass. The homily was long and boring. The Church was very hot. All the prayers seemed to drag on. After the girl could take it no longer she turned to her mother and said, “mommy, when can we get out of here?!” Her mother told her she needed to sit still for just a few minutes longer. Frustrated, the girl slumped into her pew and began looking around the Church to kill time. As she gazed at the backs of the different interesting people at Mass, her eyes caught hold of the red, sanctuary lamp. At that moment, something clicked inside the girl’s head. She pulled on her mother’s sleeve and said to her, “mommy, when the light turns green can we go?”

We can sometimes approach our time in Church like that little girl. The only thing on our mind is when we can get out of here! It's easy to be so focused on when we can get out of the Church that we risk getting nothing out of Mass. The story we just heard about the hemorrhaging woman teaches us how we can prevent this from happening.

A central theme in the story of Jesus healing the woman is the different ways that people touch Jesus and the corresponding effect this has on their lives. Jesus is walking through a large crowd. As a result, many people are touching Him as He makes His way past them. These people, however, touch Jesus without considering who He is or what He could do for them. To them He is just an ordinary person. The people who touch Jesus in this way experience no change in their lives. As He walks along, Jesus suddenly stops and exclaims to His disciples, “who touched me?” They don’t know who to respond to this. They are in a crowd. People are bumping into Jesus at every moment. Jesus realizes that someone touched Him in a way that was radically different from the rest of the people. He wants to know who touched Him with faith. Turning around, He came face to face with the hemorrhaging woman.

This poor individual had been bleeding for twelve years. She had spent all her money visiting doctors in a vain search for a cure. In addition to her physical ailment, the woman suffers emotionally. Because of her bleeding, the Mosaic law dictates that she is ritually unclean. As a result, no one is permitted to touch her or else they too will become unclean. Eventually this desperate woman hears about Jesus and travels a long distance to visit Him. She knows that He is no ordinary man and trusts in His power. She thinks, “if only I can touch His clothes, I can be cured”.  Reaching out, she touches Jesus in a way different than everyone else in the crowd. She touches Him with faith. Because of this, she alone among the crowd is changed by touching Jesus. Power flows out of Jesus and she is healed.

In every Sacrament, and especially in the Eucharist, we have the opportunity to touch Jesus just like the hemorrhaging woman. In the catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter in Rome, there is a 4th century fresco that depicts the scene of Jesus healing the bleeding woman. The image catches the woman at the moment she has touched the cloak of Jesus with great trust and faith. Ancient Christians created this fresco in order for two reasons: 1) to depict this biblical story as well, and 2) to encourage all who look at the image to remember that each time they receive a Sacrament they take the role of the hemorrhaging woman in the story.  Like her, when we approach any Sacrament we come with some woundedness. Hopelessness. A hurt from a relationship. Captivity to sin. In each Sacrament, we touch Jesus. When we touch Him with faith and trust, power, which we call grace, flows from Jesus into us. As a result we receive some healing. We grow closer to Jesus and are strengthened as we follow after Him. The Sacrament in which we have the opportunity to touch Jesus in the most profound way is the Eucharist. When we receive Holy Communion at Mass, we touch Jesus who is truly present in the consecrated Host.

Whenever we receive the Eucharist, it is critical that we touch Jesus in the same way that the hemorrhaging woman did. Unfortunately, we often touch Jesus in the way that the rest of the crowd did. As He walked among them, they touched Him with a lack of faith and trust. As a result, they were not changed by their encounter. Receiving Communion can be like this for us. When we touch the Host, we do it without thinking Who we are touching or what we desire Him to do for us. This is a problem. When we swallow a pill, the medicine works on us regardless of what sentiments we carry in our heart. Receiving Communion does not work like this. Our disposition matters greatly. Unless we approach Jesus in the Eucharist with the faith and trust of the sick woman we do not receive all the graces Jesus wants to give us.

Once I witnessed someone who touched Jesus in the Eucharist in the same way that the hemorrhaging woman touched Jesus in the crowd. At the time I was living in Tijuana. As part of my apostolate I would attend Mass in a poor chapel in a rural area of the city called Ranchito. In this town there lived a young girl whose name was Xóchitl. Xóchitl was born with spina bifida and suffered much from the complications of her illness. As a result, she was often in pain when I saw her at Mass. Xóchitl’s mom once gave an amazing account of what her daughter does at Mass. On days when Xóchitl feels particularly bad, after she has received communion she simply says to Jesus in her heart, “please make me feel better”. When Xóchitl touches Jesus with this kind of profound faith and trust, Jesus certainly floods her with grace and enters into a deeper relationship with her at this moment.

Whenever we are at Mass we should try to imitate Xóchitl rather than the girl who caught sight of the red sanctuary Mass. When you receive Holy Communion today, touch Jesus with the faith of the hemorrhaging woman, trusting that He will heal you and draw you closer to Himself.

Jesus called her a dog?!

Matthew 15:21-28 (20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, year A)

“It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

I know what you’re thinking ... did Jesus just call that poor woman a dog?! Yes, I’m afraid He did. In fact, Jesus’ actions throughout the Gospel seem strange and out of character. Here we meet a woman who approaches Jesus, asking Him to heal her daughter who is being tormented by a demon. For the people at Jesus’ time, being tormented by a demon could mean many things, including suffering from some physical, psychological or physical ailment. Regardless, this woman’s daughter was suffering and she is desperate for help. At first, Jesus ignores the woman. When she continues to beg His help, Jesus replies that He was sent to help only the lost sheep of the house of Israel, of which this Canaanite woman is not a member. Finally, after she continues to beseech Him, Jesus replies with a phrase which has the impact of a sucker-punch to the nose: “It is not right to take the food of the children and feed it to the dogs”. Ouch! Why is Jesus acting like this? What is going on here?

First, lets be clear about what is not going on in this Gospel:
1. A prejudiced Jesus learns a lesson about cultural acceptance
Some Jews at Jesus’ time viewed other nations and cultures harshly. They, the people of Israel, were God’s children. They would refer to non-Jews, or Gentiles, as dogs. Some suggest that as a 1st century Jew, Jesus shared this racial prejudice. They argue that His encounter with the Canaanite woman helped Him drop this view and become more accepting. Jesus does use a racially charged expression, but He gives no indication He agrees with it. His actions show the opposite. Jesus freely chooses to visit a gentile land, something He would hardly have done had He not liked the people there. He went there to reach out to the people in this land. As we will see, Jesus has a very good reason for playing on the underlying racial tensions of the encounter.

2. Jesus learns the full nature of His mission from the Canaanite woman
Others argue that Jesus initially thought He was only the Savior of the people of Israel. His encounter with the Canaanite woman supposedly led Jesus to realize that His mission was to be the Saviour of all. Again, this view is countered by what we find in the Gospels. We need to remember that Jesus was a Jew through and through. Sometimes our art, in which Jesus is depicted as a pale-skinned, blond haired Californian surfer, can make us forget this. Jesus knew that His mission was to be the Savior of all. At the same time, He knew that His mission was first to the people of Israel. Jesus comes as the King of the Jews to start a kingdom that will eventually cover the world. Israel was the chosen vehicle through which God planned to save the world.

So what is happening here in this Gospel??

In His interaction with the Canaanite woman, Jesus is intentionally putting barriers in her way so that in stepping over them, she will come to a deeper faith. One of the most popular movies around when I was growing up was The Karate Kid (the original, better one, not the new one with Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan...). This movie tells the story of Daniel, who has just entered Senior High in a new city. He soon gets bullied and beaten up and wants to learn Karate as a way to defend himself. Upon learning that his maintenance man in his apartment, Mr. Miyagi, has a background in Karate, Daniel begs him to teach him. Mr. Miyagi responds by putting many obstacles in Daniel’s way. When he arrives for lessons, Mr. Miyagi ignores him and gives him menial tasks to do: painting, sanding the deck and waxing cars. Though angry at first, Daniel perseveres and eventually finds that what he saw as roadblocks were actually part of his training. More than teaching him basic physical skills, in persevering against these challenges, Daniel developed as a person. He grew in his desire to learn, in courage and in self-confidence. The barriers put up by Mr. Miyagi drew these qualities out of Daniel. Jesus does the same thing with the Canaanite women. When she first comes to Jesus, she did have faith in Him. But how deep was her faith in Christ? Did she see Him simple as just another miracle worker? Jesus ignores her, and puts her off with some charged comments to test the depth of her faith. In the end, the strategy works. She replies with with a charming statement expressing her belief that although Jesus is the Savior of the Jews, she want Him to be her Savior as well: “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Jesus praises this great faith she has discovered within herself.

In order to help us grow, Jesus often puts roadblock in our way. Lets look at three examples.
  1. Roadblocks in life. Sometimes when we are living our life in a way that leads us away from God, He puts barriers in our way. Things such as difficulties at work and personal suffering often serve to make us remember how much we need God in our lives and turn back to Him.
  2. Obstacles in prayer. Often we don’t get what we ask for in prayer or else prayer can feel dry and lifeless. We can be tempted to give up. If we persevere against these obstacles and keep praying, we can grow spiritually. We can learn to love God for being God rather than the good feelings we get from Him. Also, some of the things we ask for in prayer aren't really what is best for us. In this case, God doesn't give us what we ask for in prayer because He is helping to expand our heart, making it capable of receiving an even greater gift.
  3. Challenges in relationships. Whether it is in our family, work or school, we all have to deal with “difficult people”. They can test our patience and lead us to become frustrated. Learning to relate to such people, however, is a great opportunity to grow in the virtues of patience and understanding.

At times we all feel like the Canaanite woman. We can become confused and frustrated when Jesus does not remove certain roadblocks in our life. Today, identify one such barrier in your life. Perhaps it is a struggle in prayer, at work or in a relationship. Take a moment to ask God for the grace to persevere like the Canaanite woman, trusting that Jesus will use this obstacle as a means to strengthen and deepen your faith.