Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Christian Imagination and Sensibility
We get used to things. We easily grow accustomed, becoming less mindful of things in our lives. Take running water. It’s rare that we don’t have it. The same with electricity. Both are virtual constants, and it’s easy not to be mindful that other people are not as blessed. When I lived in Sri Lanka our house enjoyed running water and electricity. However, we experienced several interruptions of both. During monsoon season, when rains poured straight down for entire nights--enough for all the world! I decided--mudslides brought down poles and their electric lines. Water pumps ceased. At times when power was not interrupted, we lost running water. It was too much to understand. I grew more sensitive to water and electricity as limited commodities and more grateful for them both.
We get used to words and expressions, too. Often the frequency of hearing them dulls us to their meanings. Love and hate are convenient examples. Our casual use of them empties them of their meanings. Other words buzz but make little impact when we hear or say them. Buzzwords: that’s the fate of much of our Christian vocabulary. Today’s scripture selections seek to rescue one: resurrection.
Resurrection is not resuscitation. Resuscitated people, in scripture and in our lives, come back to life, which death tried to claim too soon. Resurrection is absolutely new, astonishingly new life: divine life. If death discontinues human life, then resurrection in no way continues human life. Resurrection is God’s life given us. Now we enjoy it partially; one day we’ll enjoy it fully.
The first Christians had no secure grasp on resurrection. Resurrection grasped them, they were caught up by it. It was the atmosphere they breathed, the transforming life they lived. Before it was an experience, resurrection was a hope, one not every Jew shared. It was a late doctrine and a contested one as we heard in the gospel: Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and questioned Jesus.
The Sadducees, a group about half as old as the Pharisees, held only to the written scriptures, not the Pharisees’ oral tradition of interpreting them. The hope in resurrection was a belief of the Pharisees. It grew after intense persecutions Jews suffered long before Jesus. The Second Book of Maccabees sought to give faith-meaning to resurrection. We share three convictions our first reading announced: God will raise us up to live again forever; our glorified bodies will be whole, no matter what we may have suffered; and for those who defy God there will be no resurrection to this divine, unlimited life.
Can we understand that? Of course, not! Does our faith encourage us to believe and hope in resurrection? Of course! Yet for many reasons--not a mindful use of the word resurrection for starters--our imaginations narrow like Sadducees, who mocked life of the children of God, limiting it to descent and human birth. One antidote to narrow religious imaginations is our sacramental life. Our sacramental life broadens our imaginations.
Our sacramental life is neither a head trip nor a postgraduate theology class. Our sacramental life exploits all our senses in order to expand and make more supple our religious imaginations and sensibility. That’s why fire, water, oil, bread, wine, colors, music and song, touch, processions, kneeling, standing, signing and other gestures are all ’round us. Words play a lesser role than liturgy’s grand symphony of the senses.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, pause and feel the Trinity accompanying you. Ask Mary and the saints to present you to Jesus to converse with him about his life and feel it within you and all ’round you. Request of Jesus the grace to see with his vision; to hear with his attention; to notice everything our Creator fashioned and fashions for us. Praise and thank Jesus for all your gifts, especially his promised life in you. Close slowly saying the Lord’s Prayer, which aligns us more with Jesus’ attitude, makes us more humane, broadens our Christian imagination and deepens our religious sensibilities. Those qualities make us vital disciples.
Wiki-images: of Jesus speaking to the young man is in the public domain; the Lourdes cathedral procession is used under the terms of the Free Art license.