We are in an extraordinary year. Not only is it the great Jubilee Year 2000, but Easter comes very late, April 23. Usually at the end of February Lent would have already begun, but this year Ash Wednesday will not be until March 8. Because of that we have a series of Scripture readings we seldom experience. St. Mark relates a couple of healings which are like parables; they reveal some aspects of our relationship to Jesus and his Church.
Last Sunday's Gospel told about the healing of a leper. Before modern treatments leprosy was a terrible disease like cancer which eats away at the body. First the extremities -fingers, toes, nose ears - begin to decay, then slowly it consumes the entire body. Besides the physical effects leprosy also had a social and spiritual dimension. The leper was excluded from the community and had to go around crying, "contaminated, unclean." When the leper knelt before Jesus, he did something unheard of - he touched him. That touch healed the man, but Jesus did something more; he restored him to the community by saying, "Go, show yourself to the priest." (Mk 1:44) The Church Fathers saw in these words the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Jesus alone forgives and heals, but he uses the priest as his instrument of full restoration.
We see an ecclesial dimension also in today's healing of the paralytic. Like leprosy, paralysis symbolizes an aspect of the wounded human condition. When some sin - or addictive behavior - takes over a person, he seems to relinquish his will. Some people, for example, are gripped by resentment. It grows and grows inside them. At any moment they can explode, wounding other people terribly. In their better moments they realize how destructive is the addiction, but they just cannot seem to control it. They feel paralyzed.
Interestingly enough, Jesus did not just happen upon the paralytic. His friends had to go to great trouble to bring him to Jesus. They carried him to the house and when they found the door blocked, they lifted him to the roof, then removed some tiles so they could lower him down to Jesus. (Mk 2:4) All this happened as an example for us. The person paralyzed by sin or addiction needs us to carry him to Jesus. We are talking about intercessory prayer.
I want to give you an example of answered prayer which has been on my mind these days since the death of my mom. I was remember once how she and I were praying for a certain member of our family who was deeply troubled. We did not know what to do, but over the course of several years, we prayed for him. At a certain point our prayers were answered in an unexpected way. It boosted my confidence in the power of intercessory prayer; even if it sometimes involves a long process - as in today's Gospel - Jesus always hears those prayers.
One of the beautiful things our faith teaches is that we can help each other beyond this life. Toward the end of the Profession of Faith comes the phrase, "We believe in...the communion of saints." That includes those safely in heaven, people on earth who are in the state of grace and the ones making their final journey to God, the process of purification we sometimes call purgatory. Each of us surely will require cleansing before coming into the presence of the All Holy God. The Bible gives us ample indication of that. But also we see in the Scripture and our 2000 year tradition that we can help our deceased loved ones by praying for them.
I am so grateful for the many prayers people have offered for my mom. I received cards from about eighty priests who told me they would say a Mass for mom, often mentioning a specific date. Lots of parishioners have told me they would offer a rosary, Mass or other prayer for my mom. I appreciate that more deeply that you can imagine. My mom was a noble, loving person, but like all of us she struggled with certain things which were hard for her to let go of. That letting go is the painful process of purgatory. We can pray for deceased whatever cleansing they require. At the same time they can pray for us. Just recently someone told me they had asked my mom to intercede for a difficult physical problem. I doubt Mary Bloom will be formally canonized, but there is nothing to stop someone from asking her or any saintly person who has died, for their prayers. We intercede for each other in the Communion of Saints.
To return to the image of today's Gospel, I think all of us find ourselves sometimes as the ones carrying the paralytic to Jesus and at other times as the person lying helpless on the mat. Jesus has structured his church that way. As members of his Body, we have the beautiful experience of being lifted up by others (as I feel these days by your prayers) but also the great privilege of presenting our loved ones to Jesus' mercy.
On April 8 you will have a wonderful opportunity to pray for your loved ones: the pilgrimage from Holy Family to St. James Cathedral. It will be a seven or eight mile walk beginning at 6 a.m. that Saturday. Now is the time to begin getting prepared physically, but more important spiritually by making a good confession. Fr. Ocaņa and I will be available on March 2 (first Thursday) from 1 - 8 p.m. in Holy Family Church. Please avail yourself of the sacramental confession and other spiritual resources of the parish to take full advantage of this moment of grace (Holy Year Indulgence) for yourselves and your loved ones. For those unable to walk that distance you may join us at 11 a.m. for Mass which will be followed by the Pilgrim Way of St. James.
Letter to Parishioners (Feb. 20, 2000)
Funeral Homily for my mom
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