Sunday, June 28, 2015

Off the Island

Mass was quite a bit smaller than usual in Chasm Falls today (about 40 people), since we all had to be cleared through a State Police checkpoint before getting to the church...but as of last evening, we weren't sure if we'd be able to have Mass at all. (I understand that the Troopers were asking folks, "What's your pastor's name?" to make sure they were legit.) Such crazy times! Pray for all those in law enforcement working on this case. Pray for those in our community isolated by the security measures. Pray for a safe and swift resolution.

   Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 
Three guys are stranded on a deserted island
when—of course—they find a magic lamp 
with a genie inside. 
The genie looks at the men and says,
“I normally grant three wishes,
but since there are three of you, 
this time I’ll grant you each one.” 
The first guy, 
sick and tired of being on the island,
jumps forward and says, 
“I wish I could go right back home!” 
And, poof!  He disappears. 
The second man says, “I wish that, too!” 
And, poof!  He disappears. 
The genie turns to the last guy 
and asks for his wish. 
“Gee,” he says.  “It’s kind of lonely now. 
I sure wish my friends were still here…”

I spent Wednesday night on an island.
Most of you know I love the outdoors, 
and like to camp.
Given recent events,
camping out on an island 
in the middle of Lower Saranac Lake
seemed a good bit safer than staying
in the woods on the mainland anywhere nearby—
and it’s something I’d been wanting to do anyway.
It was great!
With just one campsite, 
I had the entire island to myself.
Such peace and calm!  
Such beauty and freedom!

It was while on the island
that I started to reflect on this Sunday’s gospel.

St. Mark presents us with the stories of two women.
One has been sick as long as the other has been alive.
Though they probably never met,
their stories are tightly intertwined.
In both cases, we see Jesus reaching out
very personally and tenderly to each of them.
There’s a rather moving intimacy in the way
Jesus responds to their need and their faith and heals them.
And yet there’s a wide cast of other characters also involved:
a large, pressing crowd;
Jesus’ own close-following disciples;
desperately worried parents;
loudly grieving relatives, friends, and neighbors.
It struck me:
while Jesus is present individually to those who seek his care,
his encounters with them are not private—
even if only a small circle of others are in the room.
These two women are part of a much wider network of souls,
and what happens to or for them—whether for good or for ill—
has a vital impact on so many, many others,
even if it’s not immediately recognized.

I brought that gospel insight back with me from the island,
and it strikes me how it relates
with some big things in the news these days.

Of course, we’ve all had a keen interest these past few weeks
in the manhunt for two escaped murderers from Dannemora.
When it became clear they were likely in this immediate area,
a funny thing occurred to me:
I was now their pastor.
In the Catholic understanding of things,
a parish priest is assigned to look after
not only those registered in his parish,
nor just even all the Catholics who live close to the church,
but is to have concern for the spiritual welfare
of every person within his jurisdiction.
As long as they’re hiding in these woods—I thought—
I bear a certain responsibility for their souls!
Of course, it wasn’t prudent for me
to go sit among the trees around Mountain View,
hoping they might stop by looking for confession…
But the impact, for me, of these fugitives
moved beyond the inconvenience of roadblocks
or even fears for safety.
In ways only clear to God, there is a deeper connection.
And when I first heard Friday afternoon
that Richard Matt had been shot and killed,
I immediately prayed for him:
that God would have mercy on his soul.
It just seemed like it was what his pastor ought to do.

There was other big news Friday—
news that can seem a whole lot more distant from us—
and that news was the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision
which effectively legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country.
I’ve never read a Supreme Court decision before,
but I read this one.
Let me just say: it’s long!
Nonetheless, I suggest giving it a look yourself
instead of simply accepting everything
so many supposed experts are saying about it.
The majority opinion contained no surprises:
arguments we’ve all heard before,
which seem to me far better suited to the court of public opinion
than they do to such an esteemed court of law.
What’s striking is in the dissent:
the four dissenting justices each wrote their own opinions,
which—I understand—is highly unusual.
If you’ve got time for nothing else,
take a look at those of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.
Their arguments are so lucid, reasonable, and sane,
it’s hard to imagine how they did not prevail.
What’s troubling are the predictions they make—
predictions of the effect this ruling will have on America:
on the law and our relationship to it; on the role of the court;
on the fabric of our society; on children and family life.
They echo many things our Catholic Bishop’s
have long been saying in anticipation of this decision,
just without making direct reference to God.
And the insights of these four justices
all reflect the real, if sometimes hidden, interconnectedness
that binds us all together—whether we like it or not.

Sure, it sounds fair enough to say that this issue
is all about sacred rights to liberty, privacy, and due process.
“Live and let live!
What should the government or the Church care
about the goings on in people’s bedrooms?”
But none of us live in perfect isolation.
None of our acts are completely private.
And that’s most especially true for those of us
who are members of the one Body of Christ!
Yes, we come to know Christ as individual believers.
Our faith must be personal—we must own it for ourselves.
But it’s never my private preserve—
never just about “me and Jesus.”
Like the two women in the gospel,
we are all intimately connected through, with, and in Christ,
even if we never actually meet one another.
What a single one does or decides,
what happens to any individual—good or evil—
has a real impact on us all.

A bit like my opening joke,
it’s more than a little ironic, really,
that while alone on an island I was so compellingly reminded
that, in fact, “no man is an island,” as the poet once wrote.
A brief time alone helped me realize anew
how closely linked we all are.
A few hours of quiet prepared me well
to process the news repeated at high volume.
Often times—
as it was with the hemorrhaging woman and the daughter of Jairus—
we must tune out the noise of the surrounding crowd
in order to hear the healing voice of Jesus.

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