Bottom line: Jesus wants to have a relationship with us - mental and material, invisible and visible, spiritual and physical.
Today's opening reading contains a fascinating progression of events. First, Peter announces the Good News to a group of non-Jews. To the surprise of the Jewish (circumcised) believers, the Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit. Then Peter asks, "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?" He makes it sound like we receive the Holy Spirit in order to be baptized.
Well, in a certain sense, baptism is the goal. Jesus wants to have not only a spiritual relationship with us - but also a physical, material relationship. For that reason he gives the sacraments, beginning with baptism.
This physical, bodily relationship - interestingly enough - Jesus emphasizes after the Resurrection. When he appears to the Apostles, he shows them his hands and feet. He tells Thomas, "Put your finger here...and bring your hand here and put it into my side." To prove the reality of his flesh, he eats a fish in front of them. Later, he provides a breakfast of grilled fish. And, best of all, he takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to a pair of chosen disciples. Jesus - the Risen Lord - desires a material, physical relationship with us.
I have been thinking about this in terms of my fourteen years here at Holy Family. So much has changed in our society. To give one of the most dramatic examples: Fourteen years ago the idea of two men marrying each other would seem like a great joke - the stuff of a Shakespeare comedy. Now, those who do not accept same-sex "marriage" are called bigots - or worse.
Our society has changed - and sometimes people say that we have lost our sense of spirituality. I say the opposite: We have lost our sense of physicality. How else could we see being male or female as something accidental - like having blue eyes or brown eyes? How else could we see someone's "right to choose" as more important than the physical reality of tiny baby - with legs and arms, ears and eyes, lungs and a heart?*
To combat that decline, God gave us the Church with its system of material signs: the Sacraments. Unfortunately, at the time when our society needs us the most we have been hobbled - by eternal attacks, for sure, although mainly by our own incoherence. It's easy to point the finger at our bishops, but we have to examine our own lives. I will say it again before I leave Holy Family: I ask forgiveness from God and from you for the many ways I have let you down. Some you know well, others only a few know, some only I know and many perhaps only God knows (they have mercifully vanished from my memory).
Jesus says, "You are my friends if you do what I command you." It costs to do what Jesus commands. I did not want to leave Holy Family, but the decision came not just from the Archbishop, but ultimately from Jesus.** Of course, we have to discern what Jesus wants. The bottom line is that he wants to have a relationship with us - mental and material, invisible and visible, spiritual and physical. As St. John puts it, "God has sent his Son into the world" (into this physical creation) "so that we might have life through him."
*Or intellectualize our way to acceptance of torture. When I hear the word, I think of one of my catechists in Peru who had his head held under foul water until he fainted. Then the police repeated the procedure while laughing at him. Once a society sanctions mistreatment of those detained, it opens itself to the satanic impulses in men. I pray it is not too late for America to turn back. May St. Michael defend us against such hideous evil.
**I have been reassigned to St. Mary of the Valley, Monroe, beginning July 1, 2009. The pastor-designate for Holy Family is a fine priest and a good friend, Fr. Horacio Yanez.
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