15 December 2010
It's not only "Pure Michigan"...
Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time
While I’m not a devotee of classical music, there are a few pieces of classical music that particularly move me. One composer in particular has the ability to make me stop and sigh: Mozart. I love, “Laudate Dominum” from the Vesperae Solennes de Confessores in C (for your music students out there, or Mozart purists, it’s K. 339). I also think that Mozart’s Requiem is amazing. But there is just something about his music that lifts my mind to God and puts my soul at ease.
Isn’t it amazing how something like music, or a quiet sunset amidst the bright reds, yellows, and greens of a crisp, fall evening can turn our minds to God. Surely this is a sign to us that God is the source of all beauty, since we can so easily go from the beauty, whether heard or seen, to God. It’s more than pure Michigan. It’s pure divine communication.
We, as Catholics, are people who believe in the ability of God to communicate through His creation. We have been taught and readily can accept that God shows us His goodness in all that He has given us. And we don’t simply recognize the Platonic Transcendental of Beauty, but that even God’s grace can be transmitted through His creation.
But, this is not true for every group, or even every person. In our first reading today, we miss out on the juicy part, which really makes Naaman seem like not such a great guy. It comes immediately before the passage we heard today. When told that he must bathe in the Jordan seven times by Elisha, he says:
“I thought that he would surely come out and stand there to invoke the LORD his God, and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy. Are not the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be cleansed?”
But then his servant says, “‘My father…if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, “wash and be clean,” should you do as he said.’”
Our Gospel passage is another example. The ten lepers are all sent off to the priest to be told that they’re clean. They all have faith that God will heal them. They all believe that Jesus is a prophet and speaks for God. But only the Samaritan realizes and has faith that Jesus is the presence of God, and that Jesus has healed him. We take this for granted because we are used to this. But to the first believers, this was unheard of: that God would choose to take flesh and come among us as a man. In fact, a common theme for our Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters is that God would never take on human nature. He would not debase Himself in that way.
Let’s be honest: sometimes we’re like Naaman. We expect some spectacular action from God to answer our prayers, rather than seeing how He is answering our prayers in the common actions and creation that He has given us. Take a vocation to the priesthood: I can’t tell you how many young men I have met who are waiting for the heavens to open and hear a loud trumpet, and a deep-booming voice saying, “I have chosen you!” rather than listening to their friends who encourage them to look into entering the seminary, or the movements of their own hearts and their desire to be a priest.
Or, we could look at God speaking to us in general, and helping us to live good and holy lives. We expect God to do some marvelous, exciting deed that will snap us out of our usual routines. And, to be sure, God does that from time to time. But God more frequently acts through His creation: through the words read aloud at Mass, through these homilies, as good or as bad as you may think they are, and through the sacramental life of the Church.
God chooses normal, everyday, even common things, and raises them to a new level by allowing them to impart grace. Water, for example, is not so spectacular. Sure, we all need it to survive, but we can stop down to the nearest 7-11 to get it. And yet, with the right words (the right rite, you might say) and the right intention, it cleanses infants and adults from original sin and makes them children of God. Or take the words “I’m sorry.” We say it every day (or at least we should). But, within the context of saying them to a priest, along with the confession of our sins and the prayer of absolution, those sins are forgiven. Or oil. If you love to cook, you probably use oil all the time. But given the right words, or the right perfume added to it, again, with the proper intention, it can give physical or spiritual healing to the sick, confirm the promises made at baptism, or take someone from the universal priesthood of the faithful, and make him a priest, or bishop, ordained for service to the Church in the ministerial priesthood.
If we want to hear God’s voice or see Him act, we can turn to music, or to nature, or to whatever else raises our minds to God, and see His signature all over it. We can have our minds and hearts lifted to God. If we want to hear God’s voice or see Him act, we need only pay attention during Mass as we hear His word proclaimed among us and see Him change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of His Son with the eyes of faith. What is scandal to Jews and Muslims, and an absurdity to pagans, that God became flesh and has dwelt among us in Jesus Christ, defines who we are. Let us have ears to hear and eyes to see His handiwork through His creation and the sacramental life He has given to us as His continued presence among us.