Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The desert of our lives.

When I was younger my father used to take us wade fishing.   We'd put on our life vests, grab a fishing pole and just wade out into the river.  I remember one year he took us to Mendota, Virginia.   When I first moved out I could easily wade.  Eventually I found the water fairly deep and being the lazy teen I was, I simply laid back on the life vest and floated down the river.  The trees around the water, the sun shining down, and the gentle sounds of the river made for a scene that simply put me at ease.  When I went to Arizona I experienced something different.  A dry land, parched and thirsty.  A sun that was intense and burning. A heat that made me want to stay inside in the air conditioning all day.

Ezekiel speaks this morning in the readings of a vision in which water flows from the Temple into the dry and dusty land of Israel.   The people had long been in famine and drought.  Food was scarce and water precious.   In his vision he sees water flowing from the temple in such great abundance that it not only becomes impassible to him, but restores the trees of the land bearing fruit in and out of season.  To we who have so much in abundance this image is just a pretty thing, reminding us of a desert oasis we might have seen in the movies.   To those who have experienced starvation, dehydration, and even the death of loved ones to the lack of the basic needs for life... it was an image of paradise.  Water in the desert is life itself.  A water so pure that it made the Dead Sea come to life!  That's why it's such a powerful image of God's forgiving power.

I often speak of my journey before becoming Catholic with just that image.  A desert.   This word is a desert.  A dry and dusty place in which sin often reigns and spiritual nourishment can be hard to come by.  I found some of God's grace from time to time in different ecclesial communities.  A drop of grace here or there.  A good preacher.  Some good music.  Some great worship.  Then there were other times that I'd notice the grace lacking.  A hateful belief.  A sermon of bigotry.   A personal grudge turned dogma.  It was then that I'd wander again looking for this stream that Ezekiel envisioned, this grace filled land in which my soul would be nourished consistently.

That's what I found in the Catholic Church.   The Sacraments are that stream of grace.  It is the ordinary way in which Jesus himself pours out the cooling waters of God's mercy.   Sure, you can look for extraordinary means.   We can find grace anytime two or more gather in God's name and worship in truth.   One does not need to be Catholic to get to heaven.   That's been the solid teaching of the Church for a very long time.  The thing is, if what we Catholic's believe is true?  Why would you wander the desert seeking a single drop, when you could be like Ezekiel and be completely submerged in the rivers from the pierced side of our Lord?

589 Jesus gave scandal above all when he identified his merciful conduct toward sinners with God's own attitude toward them. He went so far as to hint that by sharing the table of sinners he was admitting them to the messianic banquet. But it was most especially by forgiving sins that Jesus placed the religious authorities of Israel on the horns of a dilemma. Were they not entitled to demand in consternation, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" By forgiving sins Jesus either is blaspheming as a man who made himself God's equal, or is speaking the truth and his person really does make present and reveal God's name.

Why do I believe that this is all true?   Today's Gospel is a good example of why.  Jesus in this one healing act has shown not only his mastery over the physical ailment, but also over sin.   The Jews of his time believed that when a man was afflicted, he was a sinner.  For Jesus to not only say rise, you are made well.. but to say pick up your mat.. was to show He was in charge. Not only of the healing, not only of the forgiveness of sins, but even of the Sabbath itself.  Jesus himself instituted each of the seven sacraments of our Church.   That means, just like with the blind man at Bethesda, God has given us instruction.  "Go forth and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven."  "Do this in memory of me."  In doing these things God's grace flows over us in abundance and pours out into the world from the temple, through the open side of the Body of Christ.

1131 The sacraments are efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us. The visible rites by which the sacraments are celebrated signify and make present the graces proper to each sacrament. They bear fruit in those who receive them with the required dispositions.

Are we taking up our mat?  Only on occasion?  Or every chance we get?  Lent is a time to grow closer to Christ.  We as Catholics believe that it involves the pillars of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving.    What better prayer is there than the Mass?  What better fasting than to receive Christ and Christ alone?  What better alms-giving than to not only give money, clothes and food, but to do so with Christ residing in your heart?  Now is the time, today is the day of salvation.  Come out of the desert and into the refreshing stream that will turn you into a tree that provides fruit to the world.  Each moment Jesus is calling to our hearts, just as he did to the Samaritan Woman.  "If you knew the gift of God, and who is speaking to you, you would ask me and I would give you living water, and you'd never thirst again."   Even the desert itself will begin to bloom when it receives enough water. 

His servant and yours, 
Brian Mullins

"He must increase, I must decrease. "

A reflection on the readings for Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time: March 28, 2017.