Friday, February 9, 2007

Year I, Fifth Thursday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen 2,18-25; Ps 128,1-5; Mk 7,24-30
Memorial Mass for a Departed Parishioner

In God’s word for us today, He says, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen 2,18). As a result, God set about creating a suitable partner for the lonely man. First, "the LORD God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air," but none of these "proved to be a suitable partner for [him]" (Gen 2,18-20). So, God created from the man a woman and by so doing, at last, created for him a suitable partner. By this act, God, who is a communion of persons, shows us that one person is no person, that we need each other, and that we are created for communion.

From this, the second of Genesis’ two creation stories, which also consists of the story that describes in literary terms humanity’s fall, we see that human beings were created in what can best be described as a state of grace. Originally, harmony existed between human beings and God, between the human beings themselves, and between human beings and nature. It is with the fall, their giving in to the temptation, in the words of the serpent, to "be like gods" (Gen 3,5), that this grace was lost, these harmonies disrupted, and communion broken. Our fall from grace was possible because God has created us as free persons. Being free is vital for the realization of God’s purpose in creating anything at all. It is necessary because we must be free in order to truly love God, to participate in the communion which is the very reason for our existence.

Our Gospel today shows us in dramatic fashion that Jesus came to reconcile creation with its Creator, to restore the harmony, the communion that, once lost, is continually broken through sin. In this pericope from St. Mark’s Gospel, a Greek woman, who is a Syrophoenician by birth, comes to Jesus and, in her helplessness, throws herself at our Lord’s feet and begs "him to drive the demon out of her daughter." What is significant about her origin is that she is not an Israelite. It is the Israelites who are the children in Jesus’ simile. Therefore, he refers to gentiles as dogs. But, so helpless is this woman as regards her demon-possessed daughter, that she replies with words that are nothing short of a repudiation of the human pride that causes us to prefer ourselves to God: "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps." These words of humility, even humiliation, bring forth Jesus’ compassion and "he said to her, 'For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter'" (Mk 7,27-29).

It is because of our fallen state, which is so strong that it persists even after baptism, that we continue to bring about a recapitulation of the original sin, preferring ourselves, our own disordered desires, our own prideful beliefs to God. Our fallen state causes our reason to be darkened which is manifested most in what seems to us an innate tendency to misuse our freedom, which is so necessary to us realizing our end. Because of our continual disruption of the communion God seeks to bring about after the fall by the reconciliation of the world to himself through Christ, we still find ourselves, like the first man, alone.

This loneliness, which seems to be increasing, despite the tremendous leaps in communications technology, is a tremendous source of alienation. This state of things highlights the need for Christians to live in and as communion. The Church, made up of all the baptized, constitutes the totus Christus, the total or complete Christ, animated by the Holy Spirit, with Jesus as our head, plays a vital role in reconciling the world to God in Christ. Despite all this we continue to feel a very strong pull to turn in on ourselves. Like the force of gravity, this pull, if we try to resist it entirely on our own, and exacerbate it by other unhealthy behaviors, can become irresistible. Hopefully, it does not take much turning in to show us that we are not as strong as we think we are and to convince us, like the woman in today’s Gospel, to put aside our pride, fall at the Lord’s feet and ask for his help, our table scrap of grace, which is better than the most sumptuous feast.

If we are honest, we have to admit that sometimes our struggles get the best of us. This can lead us to the brink of despair, especially if we turn in on ourselves. Like the woman in our Gospel, we have to overcome our pride, the pride that causes us to think we are self-sufficient, the pride that causes us to think that if we just try harder we can prevail over forces that are much stronger than we are. We all know from our own experience that overcoming this pride is no easy thing. It is also something of which we are all guilty. We know, especially this evening as we gather with such heavy hearts, that despair born of loneliness and alienation can be lethal. Given our own failings, we must judge no one. In cases of suicide, not being privy to the internal states of other people, we presume that in one struggling to overcome the gravitational pull of despair there is an absence of the conditions for full awareness and deliberate consent in choosing such a tragic course. Hence, without judgment and with faith in the God who is Love, we commend our dear brother to God’s tender mercy.

Let us be consoled by the words of our Mother, the Church:

"Even when we disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon us to the power of death, but helped us seek and find you. . .

"Father, you so loved the world that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior. He was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary, like us in all things but sin.

"To the poor he proclaimed the good news of salvation, to prisoners, freedom,
and to those in sorrow, joy. In fulfillment of your will he gave himself up to death, he destroyed death and restored life" (Eucharistic Prayer IV).

With all this weighing on our hearts as we celebrate this Eucharist, this thanksgiving, let us be mindful that what we do here is an act of solidarity with each other. It is also an anticipation of and participation in that communion with God that is not merely a necessary part of human existence, but the very purpose for which we exist and the mode of our eternal existence.


  1. Dear Scott,

    It's likely you have been made aware of the latest collaboration of self-help mumbo jumbo called "The Secret"?

    In contrast to that, I am so very grateful to you, for your teaching. In your homily you spoke about "turning in on ourselves". What a profound way to talk about this tendency we have as humans, to think *we* need to be the center of, and in control of everything, including the Universe!

    What a contradiction we have in Christ. What a wonderful contradiction.

  2. Tami:

    Thank you for your kindness and encouragement. I have not heard about 'The Secret'. Yes, Christ is the contradiction our fallen human nature.

    I love the language used by then-Cardinal Ratzinger in his second book-length interview with journalist Peter Seewald, who returned to the faith after his first encounter with Joseph Ratzinger, entitled 'God and the World': the God who is so big that, for our sake, became small.


    I'm sure you will hear about it. It's "sweeping the nation". I've had three *Christian* friends bring this to my attention in the past week; and then of course the entire panel of "Teachers of the Secret" made their appearance on Oprah! this past week. My response: if you're going to profess you're a Christian, then proclaim Christ. This has nothing to do with Christianity.

    While my boat has barely left the pier as far as my new and admittedly limited understanding of God and Grace goes, still; I would rather fall at Jesus' feet and his "table scraps of Grace", than to have the entire Universe at my beck and call without Him in it.

    Thank you again Scott for helping to keep us grounded in Christ.