Dead Sea Squirrels

I celebrated Mass today at Clare Hall, a convent of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, in whose former high school building the Apostleship of Prayer has its offices. The readings were from Nehemiah, Chapter 8; Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 12; and Luke's Gospel, the first four verses and then Chapter 4, verses 14 to 21. Here is basically what I said in my homily.

On Fridays a woman named Leanne comes in to clean our Apostleship of Prayer offices. Last Friday she told me about her daughter who is in grade school and who got very excited when Leanne asked her if she wanted to see the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that just opened at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Leanne was happy to know that her young daughter was interested in going; she even started telling her classmates about the upcoming trip to the museum. Then one day this week Leanne saw her daughter drawing something and asked her what it was. "Dead Sea Squirrels!" was the reply. Leanne then explained that they were going to see "scrolls" not "squirrels." She explained what "scrolls" and at this her daughter's excitement turned to disappointment.

I think our Mass readings today show a similar dynamic: misunderstanding and disappointment. Our tendency is to not really understand who we are and the result is disappointment.

We tend to think of ourselves as isolated individuals and the reality is that we are members of a body, the Body of Christ. We think of the Church as an institution and the reality is that it is a communion, the Body of Christ consisting of many parts who are connected to one another. As Paul makes it clear in our second reading, "you are Christ's body, and individually parts of it." The implications are clear: "If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy."

This is the reality that we so often misunderstand and forget. At the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne Pope Benedict spoke in his closing homily about this reality in words that make clear how we are to understand the Church and ourselves. He said: "The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, His own Flesh and Blood." Have you ever thought of yourself as Jesus' very flesh and blood? The reality is that you are. We truly are the Body of Christ, His presence in the world today.

The English author C. S. Lewis wrote about this in his essay "The Weight of Glory": "There are no ordinary people. You have never seen a mere mortal." The implications of this are challenging. Lewis goes on: "And our charity must be real and costly love.... Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses."

This is the reason behind what could be called "Jesus' Inaugual Address" in the Gospel. Jesus stands up to preach and uses words from a scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. He says that He is anointed for a purpose. The Holy Spirit fills Him so that He can free people and give them hope. We too were anointed at our Baptism and we have been given the Holy Spirit to empower us to do what Jesus did. We are called to reverence the image of God in ourselves and in one another. When we do this, we give true worship to God. We give glory to God.

But we so often forget and misunderstand this. It's really a question of focus. In the First Reading Ezra told the people to shift their focus. They had just heard a reading of the Word of God, the Law of God, and they broke into weeping because they realized how they had not been following it. They were filled with disappointment and discouragement. Ezra told them not to look backwards, not to focus on their sins and failures. He told them to focus on the present not the past. He said: "Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep.... Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength!"

So too for us. Don't look to the past. Focus on the present and understand the reality of who you are. Don't live in misunderstanding and disappointment. Today's Gospel ends with these words of Jesus: "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." Today God's Word about who we truly are--the Body of Christ--is fulfilled. Don't look to the past, but to the present, and live out the reality of who you really are, one day at a time.