Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46
February 14-15, 2015 Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B
"Oh my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch, a long lonely time"
Most of you probably recognize that as the opening words to Unchained Melody. Although it was written in the mid-fifties, and rose to popularity in the sixties, a whole other generation was introduced to it by the movie Ghost. That was Betsy and my wedding song way back in 1968. And maybe because it expressed that heart felt love in my life, I hear it as the sound track to today's Gospel, and by extension to what it means to be Catholic. Our Catholic faith is unique among the major world religion in that it is an incarnate faith; it is expressed in the flesh. All of creation is an incarnation of God, and human beings in a special way. Our God took on this flesh so that we might experience God in the flesh. And it is, most fundamentally learned through the flesh. Of course science is revealing more and more that everything we think is conditioned on our physical nature, even our thoughts about spiritual things. That is why we have all these "Catholic Calisthenics" during mass: we stand to pray or when moving in procession, we sit to listen, we kneel to worship.
I kept bouncing back and forth this past week as I reflected on these readings with that song in my head. First I felt as if I were singing it to express the longing I have for God's touch. The deep need we all have to be touched, to be comforted, to be healed, to be loved. I hunger for that touch. And my keen sense of the obvious tells me that I am not the only on who feels that way. I would then switch to hearing God sing those words to me. Can we even imagine that God loves us, each one of us, so deeply that God has a hunger for our touch? But that is exactly how God loves us. And of all the ways we experience love, there is nothing that even begins to compare with love expressed through touch. Science has demonstrated beyond question that if a young baby is not held and cuddled and lovingly touched, that baby has a hard time growing up to be human. Like so many things, the truth of our deep seated need to be touched is often learned most radically when we are deprived of it. I was listening to NPR last week and heard the story of a woman who lost her husband to suicide, and one of the most poignant statements she made was how for years she would lie in bed, hungering to be held.
So it should be no surprise that many of Jesus' miracles involved touch: last week's story of Jesus' healing of Peter's mother in law, today's story of the cleansing of the leper, the curing of the blind man which Jesus did by mixing dirt and his spit and touching it to the blind man's eyes. And it goes on and on, the woman who hemorrhaged for 12 years, Thomas' doubt that Jesus is risen, and so on.
I ran across a piece called The Story by writer, preacher, teacher Fr. Eugene Walsh. In it Fr. Walsh says"
...that's how God comes to us. God comes to us through our human bodies. God comes to us through us. So, before he died, Jesus, becoming more and more aware of what was going to happen to him, turned to his disciples and said to them:
"Now YOU go to my people. You get out there and take my place. You become my body. You identify with my people, and you show them and tell them how much we love them. You give yourself to them and for them, Just the way I did. And you help them on their long and difficult journey back to my Father."
A few years ago I saw a survey of Catholics who no longer went to Mass regularly and one of the most telling reasons that was given was that the person did not see any connection between what was happening in his or her life, and what goes on at Mass.
The connection between what we do at Mass and the rest of our lives is that we come here to be formed more fully into the Body of Christ so that we can better be that Body out there. That is what God does through Jesus. That is the whole point of the church. We are to be the instruments through which God shares God's self with us. But we cannot share our selves in a way that shares God unless we truly become the body of Christ. We will never do that perfectly in this life, but we can do it better and better. That is why we come to Mass week after week after week. To hear the story of who we truly are, and to share in the gift of Christ's own self in the Eucharist. We bring our cares and our sins and our disappointments and we lay them at the altar, and hopefully we leave them there. In return we take in the Word of God (who is a person at work in us) and the body and blood of Christ so we can go out to share our very selves as the body of Christ. Without that sharing of self as a sharing of God, the Church and the scriptures and Mass make no sense.
We have been incorporated into that Body by baptism, and we come here week after week not just to be touched by Jesus but to actually take and eat His body, and to take and drink His blood. So Christ not only touches us, literally, but becomes one with us physically, gastronomically, completely, intimately. If that is not mind blowing enough, think of this. When the priest, or deacon or Extraordinary Minister of Communion holds up that consecrated host and says, "The Body of Christ", who is that? Who is it that we take into our mouths, that touches us and strengthens us and heals us by becoming one with us? Who is the Body of Christ? Yes, all of us.
And yet none of this would make much sense if it stayed here. We are the anti-Las Vegas: What happens at Mass cannot stay here at Mass. The very name is a linguistic adaptation of the command the deacon gives at the end of Mass: Ite Missa Est. Go, your commissioning is done. Go, you have been given your mission. Go, the world out there, the one we will encounter today, this week, like the leper in today's story is singing our song:
"O my love, my darling, I hunger for your touch, a long lonely time. God speed your love. "