Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday word, 19 Feb 2012

Lively Unity 
7th Sunday of the Year B (19 Feb 2012)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.

Neurologist Oliver Sacks feels himself a “naturalist and a physician both.” He wrote, “I am equally interested in diseases and people; perhaps, too, that I am equally, if inadequately, a theorist and dramatist, am equally drawn to the scientific and the romantic, and continually see both in the human condition, not least in that quintessential human condition of sickness—animals get diseases, but only man falls radically into sickness.”1 

His equal interest in diseases and people has allowed Dr. Sacks to focus on the “suffering, afflicted, fighting, human subject…a ‘who’ as well as a ‘what,’ a real person, a patient, in relation to disease—in relation to the physical.”2 His inclination and his insight about himself and others intersect with our Christian conviction about humans: each person is a lively unity.
This detour, I think, helps us appreciate the scriptures today. God always notices us as people, as embodied spirits. Our spirit—our kinship with God, being created in the divine image—and our body, which God assumed in Jesus so that by our body our Creator may have closer kinship with us: spirit and body form a lively unity. Jesus embodied the divine concern when he cured a man’s paralysis and healed his core self. Cure of infirmity: Rise, pick up your mat and go home; and, healing the unseen self: Your sins are forgiven.
Jesus knew the difference between curing and healing. Each of us is more than weakness or strength; physical, mental or emotional infirmity or health. More than that, body and spirit constantly interact. If a passing cold or flu causes grown people to sigh, “I need my bed,” or, “I want my mother,” then with greater intensity can a chronic condition dampen a sense of self and distort one’s sense of worth.
Jesus was keenly aware of that body-spirit interaction. Jesus was also aware that spirit—our kinship with God, the divine image—is the humanizing part of our lively unity.3 Jesus addressed spirit first when he spoke to the paralyzed man: Child, your sins are forgiven. His words scandalized some of his hearers, who considered Jesus to have usurped God’s role. His words moved others, beginning with the paralyzed man, who saw God working, saving in Jesus. A physical condition was cured, and a spirit-condition was healed that day. More telling than the healing are the attitudes toward Jesus. To the scribes he blasphemed God; to the many God was with Jesus.

Those who judged Jesus a blasphemer did not see as Jesus saw: a person with paralysis. Those who glorified God shared the divine vision. They saw again how Jesus responded to people not only to conditions and diseases. In Dr. Sacks’ language, Jesus did not focus on diseases but on people, who fall “radically into sickness.” Sickness is more than ailing bodies.
Many who live with chronic conditions are not blinded to their true selves, their spirits. Some come, not easily, to enjoy delights the rest of us cannot see; which is why we marvel at them. This gospel moves each of us to ask, What is my attitude toward Jesus? Jesus fulfilled in his deeds, words and person the prophet’s announcement: I [God] am doing something new. Not Madison Avenue new-and-improved but of an order beyond imagining. The effects of sin, that rupture between our true selves and God and one another, dim our vision or even blind us to God announcing life-giving news to us and among us.
In your 15 minutes with Jesus this week
  • Allow yourself, body and spirit, to rest in the Trinity, who creates and redeems you.
  • Ask the saints to present you to Jesus, as the friends of the paralyzed man presented him.
  • Speak to Jesus by telling him the story of yourself: not a chronicle but the way you would introduce your parent or child, your spouse or sibling or friend to Jesus. Speaking your story makes you a real person to yourself as well as to another.
  • Ask Jesus for grace honestly to reveal yourself. Give yourself to Jesus.
  • Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. On earth as in heaven calls us to attend to our embodied spirits, our true identity. The more we do, the more we grow aware of Jesus with us and among us.

Link to this homily’s Spiritual Exercise
  1. Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales. © 1970, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985 by Oliver Sacks. All rights reserved. pdf version, accessed 11 Feb 2012, p. 3.
  2. Ibid.
  3. St. Paul used the phrases inner human and outer human in speaking about spirit and body: 2 Corinthians 4.16. Procopius of Gaza (c. 465-528) used hidden and seen of this unity: “God the Father’s Power, himself a person...has fashioned man also, who was created to resemble God’s own image and likeness and has a nature which is partly seen and partly hidden from our eyes.” (From his Commenatry on Proverbs.)
Wiki-image of the healed paralyzed man is in the public domain. Wiki-image by Euro88 of Glendalough portal is used according to CC BY-SA 3.0.

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