Monday, May 23, 2016

Sunday of the Paralytic 2016

I said earlier to the kids that the statement by the paralytic that he has no one to help him is both an important and a heart-wrenching statement.

The question that comes before this is perhaps even more important for each and one of us individually, because Christ asks the paralytic, as he does a couple of times in his ministry: "Do you want to be healed?" There's no evidence anywhere else in the Bible or in Tradition to say that the paralytic was somehow enjoying the state of disability, but it's possible to become comfortable where we are, even in a state of illness, in a state of sin: we become comfortable with it. It's just what we're used to, and it doesn't take that much work to keep the status quo. So if we are asked, "Do you want to be healed?" it is easy for us to stop and say, "Well, I'm not sure."

This is part of where this paralytic is an example for us, because he doesn't say that. He tells Christ the situation, and, yes, he desires that healing. This getting stuck, getting paralyzed, if you will, in a place that is comfortable, even if it may not be the right thing, can happen to us as people and it can happen to us as a community. So we need to look at where we are in our lives. We need to always keep an open mind and an open heart to the Gospel, to what we are called to become by the grace of God, again, both as individuals and as a community.

It is, like I said, easy, and I guess it is natural if we take the fallen human nature to be "natural," for all of us to want to be comfortable, to get to a place where we can say, "Okay, I've gotten here. I don't need to struggle any more." Yet, we know that life here on earth is struggle—against sin, against human nature, against the principalities and powers of this world as St. Paul tells us—to our very last breath. It takes courage, it takes grace, it takes faith, and it takes the support of one another for us to be able to break out of that pattern and to be able to come to Christ and say, "Yes, Lord, I want to be healed. I want to escape from the paralysis in which I find myself. I want to become holy as you are holy."

It is a challenge that this gospel places before us every year: to look into our hearts and see. Do we really want to be healed? Are we willing to do everything that we can do on our part? God will do his, but are we willing to open the doors of our heart, the doors of our mind, for him to enter, to transform us? Again, in one of the prayers of thanksgiving for holy Communion, it says that we receive the Holy Body and Blood "for the illumination of the eyes of our hearts, [...] and the granting of divine grace." Are we willing to be transformed, even if it is uncomfortable, because we trust or we believe that what God has promised us truly is the better thing, regardless of what it is compared to?

So today, on this feast of the paralytic—of the healing of the paralytic—let us believe that God will indeed heal those who desire to be healed. Let us have faith that he will give us what we need for our salvation, even if, sometimes, as hard as it may be, our illnesses and difficulties may be for our salvation. I don't know; I cannot see through everything. By God's grace, and glory be to him and thanks be to him, I'm not clairvoyant. But sometimes the difficulties and trials in our life are for our salvation. Let us trust that as we are struggling against sin, that God will give us the grace and the strength to continue that struggle until, again, by his grace, we can overcome it.

So as we take stock of that, let us marvel at his love and his grace and his patience and the fact that he comes and that he came and continues to come for our salvation, for the healing of souls and bodies. And for all the glimpses that he has given us of the kingdom in his mercy, for all the miracles that he has shown, and all these miracles that take place around us and maybe even in our own lives if we stop and look at how things came together and how things have changed—let us look at all those things. Let those strengthen us in our faith and in the glory and thanksgiving that we give to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.


Monday, May 16, 2016

Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women 2016

It is somewhat fitting here, I think, that our Spring Dinner falls on the Sunday of the Myrrh-bearing Women, since we're starting service 45 minutes early, that we have to arrive early at dawn in order to come and be with God. It is good to see everyone here. It is also a very interesting juxtaposition of texts, I think, in this morning, especially the epistle reading, as we read, if you will check your weekly email in the Wisdom from the Church Fathers sections, selections from St. Ireneaus of Lyons, Against the Heresies. Because in this morning's epistle reading, we hear the names of seven people who were full of faith and who were chosen to be deacons, to serve the people. And we're given the names, and the last name on that list is Nicholas. And we can think, "Okay, these are wonderful people. They're mentioned in the New Testament as being full of faith. They must all be saints of our Church." But that's not actually the case.

We learn from St. Irenaeus of Lyons, from his Against the Heresies, that there is a sect called the Nicolaitans, who followed this last person who was mentioned among these seven, this Nicholas, who even though he was holy when the record was kept, when we are told in the Book of Acts that he was full of faith, he went off of the narrow path of salvation. He fell away from the Church. He created a sect that St. Irenaeus mentions as being immoral. So he shows what that sect teaches and shows and contrasts that with the teachings of the Church. So one thing that tells each and every one of us is that we cannot rest and be assured of our salvation. Yes, we are in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We are in the Church that Christ founded, but that by itself is not a guarantee of salvation. We have this warning sign of this Nicholas, who was full of faith and full of grace, and yet he fell away from the Church and from salvation.

And if we contrast that, we also have this morning the people we commemorate as saints: Joseph of Arimathea; Nicodemus, the disciple by night; and the holy myrrh-bearing women, who dared, in one way or another, to make themselves known as disciples even when that was not the safest thing for them to do. Joseph took down the body of Christ and buried it. The women woke up early in the morning, when logic would have said that there was no reason for them to do so, when the other disciples were dejected because they had seen the Lord crucified and dead on the cross; they, out of their love, went. They didn't know what would happen. They expected the stone to still be there and they expected to need to be helped to get into the tomb to anoint the body. And that faith, that continual remaining faithful, remaining loving towards the Christ was what brought them to the tomb very early in the morning. And we know that they continued their ministry throughout their lives. We have the story of St. Mary Magdalene. We know the story of several of these myrrh-bearing women who are celebrated as saints in our Church, how these remained faithful to Christ, remained faithful to the Church.

I cannot help but think that this waking up early in the morning, being dedicated and willing to fulfill what they felt their duty, to the person they loved, during the midst of what seemed like a hopeless situation, is what allowed them to remain faithful when others, full of faith and love at one time, fell away. So let us, in our own lives, look at the myrrh-bearing women; wake up early in the morning, that we may spend time in prayer and with God before we go on with whatever the rest of the day brings to us. Let us come here and be nourished by the prayers of the liturgy, and most of all by the holy body and blood of Christ, that we may avoid the fate of a Nicholas or, if we want another example, of a Judas. We are in the body of the Church. We have everything we need in the Church for our salvation. Let us take hold of it. Let us hold onto it with our whole mind and heart and soul and with all the strength that we have. For we need that in order to remain in the fold of Christ's Church, in order to be transformed, in order to become holy. We need to put in that time and that effort to say, "Yes, Lord. Here I am," when God in His grace knocks on the doors of our hearts.

May we always have this strength. May we always have this willingness to do the things that may at times seem strange, that may be not according to the wisdom of the world, as the myrrh-bearing women did things not according to the wisdom of the world, so that we may hear with the good servant the voice of the Lord saying, "Enter into the joy of your kingdom," and so with all the saints may we always give glory to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.