Sunday, February 19, 2012

Through the Roof

   Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

I spent this past week on a little vacation,
We had dinner at the rectory the other night
with several young adults from our parishes,
trying to brainstorm ideas for future projects and programs.
In the course of our conversation,
Fr. Stitt shared an old comic strip that he remembered…

A priest gets into a taxi.
The fun-loving, fast-living cabbie, asks,
“So, Padre—I been kinda wondrin’ 
about this Jesus feller.
What can ya tell me ’bout ’em.”
“Well,” the priest answers, 
“Jesus is a pretty amazing guy.
Get to know him, and it changes your whole life.”
“Ev’ryting?” the cabbie asks.
“Well, in that case,” the cabbie says, “never mind.”

Imagine what it was like being that paralytic man in Capernaum.
Exciting, no doubt, but also pretty terrifying.
Sure, he had to be afraid that the ropes would snap,
that this friends would slip or lose their grip
as they lower him down through the roof to Jesus.
But he must have been apprehensive on a much deeper level, too.
If Jesus actually did what this man’s friends hoped Jesus would do,
his life would be changed completely and changed forever.
His paralysis had become more than a physical affliction.
It was his way of life.
True—it probably wasn’t the life he’d have chosen for himself,
but it’s the only one he’s known.
What would it be like to walk? jump? run? dance?
How would he find a job?
How would his role in his family,
his place in the community be different?
He was on the brink of going from impossible dream to reality.
And that prospect is always daunting, always scary.  (cf. R. Veras)

Getting close to Jesus—really getting to know him—
has that effect on everybody.
It changes everything.

I read an interesting article this past week
on why Catholics in their 20’s and 30’s
are so often missing from our churches.
(And I’m not talking about the general exodus of local families
during this week’s Winter Break!)
Amy—a long-time campus minister at a Catholic university—
told this story of a time when she was leading a prayer exercise
for some college students,
inviting them to imagine Jesus right there in front of them.

“Look Jesus in the eye,” she counseled. 
After the prayer time,
Amy invited the members of the group
to share their experience. 
One described what happened 
but studiously ignored
the “looking Jesus in the eye” part.
 Amy asked, “What was it like
to look at Jesus face to face?”
“Oh, I couldn’t do it.”
“Why not?” gently asked Amy.
Pause. Shuffle of feet. A glance at the floor.
“Oh, I’m not worthy.” …
“And I’m looking around the group,” [Amy adds]
“and all the heads were nodding.
They all felt that way.” (America, 2/13/12)
Though the feeling is not-at-all limited to this age bracket,
many younger Catholics—
for a wide variety of reasons—
find themselves living in ways
which—deep down—the know they oughtn’t.
And they feel stuck there: paralyzed.
How could God—or anybody else—
want me with all my faults and flaws?
I can’t be perfect, so why even try?
And what if I screw up again?
I’ve been gone too long.
So I’ll drink some more 
or take another drug to forget.
I’ll keep “hooking up” to avoid the risks 
of a long-term relationship.
The cycle of self-destructive behavior continues,
since acceptance and transformation—
things we all really, truly want—
just seem too good to be true…
...or, at least, too good for me.

And there’s another sort of paralysis at work here.

Have you ever come upon someone who’s just been seriously hurt?
Maybe it’s a terrible car crash.
Maybe it’s a screaming child with an injury
that requires more than a kiss to make it go away.
Unless you’ve been trained to do otherwise, most of us freeze.
It’s quite clear that something needs to be done,
but we’re not sure what’s best to do.
We doubt our ability to make a difference,
frightened that we don’t have what it takes.
So instead of doing what we can,
we stand by silent, or turn away, doing nothing.
We end up paralyzed. (cf. J. Welte)

What’s true when we find people suffering physical injuries
is even more the case when it comes to sin.

The four friends in the gospel
show us an altogether different way.

We’re right to realize
that we cannot change the lives of those around us
who seem stuck in their old ways.
But we don’t have to…because Jesus can.
All we have to do is bring them to him,
to extend an invitation, to make the introduction.
We might have to use some unconventional methods—
when you can’t get through the door,
why not go through the roof?
But all we need is the complete confidence
that getting to know Jesus
can—will—make all the difference.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians
that Jesus is God’s resounding “yes.”
From all eternity, the Son’s very being
has been an unwavering “yes” 
to the Father’s will.
Become flesh?  Sure! 
Die on a cross? You bet!
Christ was—and is—
willing to do whatever it takes
to accomplish God’s plan.
And so we see that Christ 
is also God’s “yes” to humanity.
In Jesus, God says to us—
to the whole human race
and to each of us as members of it—
You’re worth it.  You’re worth everything!
No one is ever too far gone.
I love you, and nothing can change that!

Despite perceptions to the contrary,
the Church is meant to be a general hospital for sinners,
not some sort of exclusive club for the saints.
None of us are here because we’re worthy…
…but because God determined that we’re worth it.

Do I believe this for myself?
Do I believe it enough to share it with somebody else?

As that hapless cabbie quickly picked up,
getting to know Jesus changes everything.
Admittedly, that can be more than a little bit intimidating.
But if we can bring ourselves to take that first hesitating step—
whether for ourselves
or for another fearful paralytic clinging to his mat—
—the Lord will take it from there.
“See,” he lovingly repeats.  “I am doing something new!”

The late Fr. Pedro Arrupe
(international head of the Jesuits from 1965 to 1983)
once made this keen observation while giving a retreat:
Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you will spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

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