Sunday, September 27, 2015

Hands and Boxes

Dominic enjoying a box
Readings for Sunday, September 27 / 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Numbers 11:25-29
Psalm 19
James 5:1-6
Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Pope Francis!

I really hope everyone is reading his homilies and addresses if you’re not watching them. Such richness in his words and some real challenges that invite us to do a little soul searching. If you haven’t, do take the time to read them.


Anybody that comes by the rectory and goes into the main part of the house is likely to notice something that might seem a bit odd: a few empty boxes scattered here and there.  The reason is pretty simple. Cats like boxes. There are tons of videos on the internet of cats trying to fit into all sorts of little boxes and even some of lions and tigers playing in huge boxes, noting that it’s not just little cats that like them. Cats enjoy boxes, it is said, because it is a place of comfort. There is protection around their sides and it eases their nerves. Looking around the rectory this week got me thinking about what my own box looks like. What is my comfort zone? As NASCAR cars have logos of sponsors and who they support all over them, I began to question what the stickers on my comfort zone box would say. Through the course of the Pope’s visit I’ve been intrigued to see the response of some Catholics whose comfort zones were not acknowledged, or at least not as much as they’d have liked, by the Holy Father and how it became a source of tension. It made me wonder if sometimes rather than being fervent Catholics if we Americans aren’t instead fervent Democrats, Republicans, etc. who simply cover our political logos on our box with those of the Gospel. While the Church is made up of members each with different gifts and who are called to labor and focus upon particular missions and ministries in the Church, we must be willing to stand up for the fullness of the faith and not simply parts of it. It challenged me to pray about not just what my comfort zone is, but also what are those things that ought to be there on account of the faith that I am reluctant to agree to? What are those places where I’m not comfortable with the Church’s teaching or practice? What are those stickers from the Gospel that should be on my box, but aren’t?

This weekend the Scriptures are quite clear in calling us out of our comfort zones. In Numbers we hear of how the Lord God sought to spread around the spirit He had placed upon Moses and to let the 70 assist in the prophetic place he held among the Israelites. This was fine with the Israelites until Eldad & Medad enter the picture. These two were outside of the meeting tent, the place of encounter with God, and received the spirit out in the camp amongst the regular people. Upon receiving the spirit they prophesy and a young man runs to tattle on them to Moses, whereupon Joshua chimes in commanding Moses to ‘make them stop!’ It was fine for the spirit to be spread around. It was fine for Eldad & Medad to receive it. It was fine for them to prophesy. BUT – they had to do it in the confines of the meeting tent. They didn’t know how to handle when things were done differently. What might happen if they start prophesying in the midst of the people? What if the spirit begins to stir things up the camp? What happens if things get messy and don’t go as previously planned? In short, if Eldad and Medad prophesy in the camp, the comfort zone can easily be challenged and things have to be addressed that might be difficult to explain or make sense of.

The Gospel has a similar situation with John running to tell the Lord about a man who was casting out demons in His name. His concern wasn’t that he was casting out demons, though. His concern was ‘he does not follow us’. He’s not on our team and he’s doing things that are unexpected and about which we don’t know how to respond. Moses and Jesus have similar responses: don’t prevent them. The situation must certainly have been an uncomfortable one because the disciples had no way of trying to rein in this random exorcist and they’d simply have to do their best to respond to things as they went along. Whoever is not against us is for us.

When we live a life as faithful children of God, as much as we might like to keep things comfortable and as convenient as possible, the Gospel demands that we allow ourselves to get into the messiness of this world and to allow the Gospel to spread in the ways that sometimes challenge us in our faith. The question is this: are we willing to let go of comfort?

Look, Ma! No hand!
You see my hands? I’m quite attached to them. My hands and I have been together for 31 good years now. I know the stories behind the scars and all the imperfections. And not only that, I’m intimately attached to them physically – flesh and bones, tendons and veins. My hands enable me to do so many things with such ease and to accomplish many good works that would be impossible otherwise. And yet the Lord God says that if my hand causes me to sin, it would be better for me to cut it off. No matter my attachment to it – it’s been there my whole life! – it would be better than to keep it and go to Gehenna, aka Hell. The Lord isn’t literal in this statement, otherwise we’d all be fumbling around with no feet, no hands and no eyes and we’d be quite a site to see for people visiting from out of town! The Lord is illustrating for us the importance of being able to let go of those things that encourage comfort and prevent us from living the Gospel more seriously, even if we've been attached to them for whole life. Is my comfort zone worth clinging to all the way to Gehenna? Am I willing to let go of some of my convictions at heart and experience another step in my life-long conversion process?

I’m not saying we need to change the faith. I am saying that we need to revisit from time to time why we do the things we do, why we don’t do the things we don’t do, and whether our deeply held convictions are in accord with the Gospel. May the Holy Spirit, our advocate, come with his gifts of wisdom and courage that we might take up the words of Pope Francis and keep moving forward. Always moving forward.