Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Big trouble

Six years ago at this time of the year, I got in *big trouble* over the readings we read this past Sunday. Actually, to be more precise, I got in *big trouble* over what I preached about the readings we read.

Since the Lectionary is set up as a three-year cycle, I know precisely that it was six years ago, because the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time were the same then as they were on Sunday.

For those of you who slept in -- I mean, had other priorities -- the readings were Lv 13:1-2, 44-46; Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11; 1 Cor 10:31-11:1; and Mk 1:40-45. (I'll let you look them up, if you'd like.) Suffice it to say that the first reading had to do with leprosy -- and the fact that it was the High Priest who'd diagnose that condition (not a medical doctor) -- and the Gospel reading recounted the story of a leper approaching Jesus asking to be healed.

Six years ago now, in case you don't remember it, the US was building up to the invasion of Iraq, and shortly before the Sunday on which these readings were read, some bozo in the government had 'encouraged' the populace to go out and buy duct tape and plastic, in case there were bio-weapons unleashed against the US citizenry.

I couldn't believe how ludicrous a notion that was, in the first place, but more than that, I was appalled at how many youngsters and long-timers in the congregations where I said Mass were simply terrified beyond words by the statement made by that government bozo.

More baffling still was the radio silence maintained by most of the big-name church-folk from mainline church bodies in the face of such blatant fear-mongering.

The bottom line up front (BLUF, in Army-speak): Christians don't do fear. Period.

Doesn't matter who's selling it, either by force of arms or of words, Christians don't do fear.


Yet so-called Christians were talking about "terror alert levels" -- why not "preparedness alert levels"?? (which is inherently more terrifying, eh?) -- and about duct tape and plastic, and not about a God who is so big that "there is nothing in all the created world" (to paraphrase Rom 8:32) that can separate us from the love of that God!

I couldn't believe it.

So I walked into the largest, wealthiest church in the area that day carrying a canvas bag, which I placed on the altar at the beginning of Mass. (I hate *anything* to be on the altar at the beginning of Mass!) After the readings, as I began the homily (it's akin to a sermon, sort of), I picked up the bag and began walking up and down the center aisle, as is my wont.

I talked about how a diagnosis of leprosy -- even for something as medically innoucuous as eczema -- could be a death sentence for someone in the ancient near east (especially if the person were a woman or a child), which was why the man in the Gospel reading was feeling his whole world had been turned upside down, his very life was threatened by the diagnosis he'd received.

I told the assembled congregation that we needed to look at what he didn't do, versus what he *did* do, in the face of that fear, because a lot of people in our own day were feeling as if their world had been turned upside down. As if their whole way of life, indeed their *very* life, was threatened.

That's when I reached into the bag, and thrust a big gray roll of duct tape in the air with my left hand and boomed out, "He did NOT place his trust in duct tape!"

I then reached into the bag, pulled out the crucifix I received at my First Vows, raised it high with my other hand, and declaimed, "He placed his trust in Jesus!"

Continuing on, I said: "And just because he placed his trust in Jesus, it did NOT mean that what he didn't want to happen didn't happen. He didn't want to die, which is why he asked Jesus to heal him. But guess what? Even though Jesus healed him, HE EVENTUALLY DIED! But he didn't have to live in fear in the meantime!! Christians do NOT do fear!"

Some people got up and walked out.

One of them was the donor who'd consistently given the largest single yearly gift to the parish for at least a dozen or more years running.

I got told by the parish secretary later that week that I wouldn't be doing Mass there anymore....

Big trouble, I tell you.

(I wouldn't have it any other way.)

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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