16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
What does eating raw garlic have to do with preventing Covid-19?
It helps keep everyone far away!
For Christians, social distancing isn’t easy! We’re a community that bases its existence on the fact that the Son of God came down from heaven to dwell among us! To be one of us! To suffer and die for us! To save us! To draw all persons near!
Indeed, we heard in our second reading today from the Letter to the Ephesians, “Now in Christ Jesus, you who were far off, have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph 2:13) The month of July is traditionally dedicated to the devotion to the Precious Blood because, it is through the power of Christ’s Precious Blood that we’re redeemed and our sins washed away. It’s by the power of Christ’s Precious Blood that God reconciles us to himself and defeats the powers of the Enemy. It’s by the power of the Precious Blood of Christ, that peace is made possible, not just to us who believe, but to the whole world.
What motivated Jesus to bring peace to the world by the power of his Precious Blood? Perhaps it was God’s strong, unrelenting desire to encounter each one of us, with all our imperfections and struggles, with all our doubts and hesitations, with all our skepticisms and misguided perceptions of God. Perhaps it was God’s conviction that we had just as much a desire to get to know Him as he had in wanting to know us, through and through.
For when we encounter someone for the first time, it’s an opportunity for us to change and to grow from that experience. When we encounter another, we’re offered an opportunity to see things from a different perspective and vantage point than our own. When we encounter another, we reach out beyond the comfortable and the predictable to a place where the unknown and the unfamiliar reigns, to a place where we risk perhaps being hurt or wounded in the process.
That being said, Jesus is definitely not advocating that we place ourselves in situations to encounter persons who have declared their deliberate desire to harm us from the outset because of our beliefs or values. But if there’s a possibility of establishing a newer, better relationship, Jesus is all for taking the risk. For when we do so, what we’re implicitly acknowledging, deep down, is that we have a longing to belong and to be understood. As Mother Theresa once said, “If we have no peace, it’s because we’ve forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Jesus preached that conviction with his whole life. He walked and talked with anyone who would listen and accompany him, women and men, young and old, sick and healthy, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. To each one, he’d try to understand what their hurts and aches were and how he might be a source of healing grace and reconciliation. Sometimes in these encounters, Jesus educated them about the Word of God and witnessed to that word by the priorities to which he was committed and by which he lived. Through it all, Jesus never restricted himself to just his twelve disciples and his immediate family, but always found the time to get to know other people and to share with them the Good News that God wanted everyone to embrace.
And, by and large, Jesus was successful in his encounters because he approached every opportunity with an open heart and mind, to hear what the other had to say, and to respond with nothing less, than the generosity, unconditional love, and acceptance of God himself. He was by and large successful because he focussed on the innate desire of each person to be loved, understood, and accepted.
In like manner, we’re being challenged by the Lord to always approach our encounter opportunities with an open heart and mind, with a willingness to hear what the other has to say and without placing any judgments or criteria on the other.
Rather, we need to recognize the good in the other and to see the divinity that is within the other, and to call it out and to welcome its presence in our world. As Marcus Mescher reveals in his book, The Ethics of Encounter, coming face to face with another person in this way becomes a sacrament, because it reveals to us the sacred presence of God in our midst!
As Christians, we want everyone to have such graced, sacramental encounters! For that to happen, though, we must be willing to encounter those who are far off, motivated by the redemptive, salvific value of Jesus’ Precious Blood, that was shed and poured out, not just for you and for me, but for EVERYONE of EVERY category, in EVERY era of time and until the end OF time! The term, ‘far off’ then, doesn’t necessarily nor primarily mean those who are geographically distant from us. Rather, what the term is trying to covey to us, is to focus our time and attention on those who feel far away from God —those whom others have discarded or discounted —those who have been judged as unworthy or undeserving of our time, prayer, money, and attention —those who, most likely, are in the minority and whose voices are easy to silence or to drown out by prejudices or discriminations hurled toward them or by the political machinations of the dominant group. Those who are far off, perhaps, have never truly felt the love of God or the care of a Christian community. They may have never felt that they belong in this world or that that they will be accepted by anyone unlike themselves. As a result, such persons may self-isolate, not because of Covid, but as a perennial means of protecting themselves from the hostilities, atrocities, and hatred of others. I don’t need to mention any particular groups. We can all think of plenty of persons and groups who feel far away from God and unloved by the Church of Christ. Maybe you can be the one to bring the love and caring of Christ into their lives! Maybe you can be the one to welcome that person in the name of Christ, to our Church and to show them that they belong!
Many of you know me as your pastor, but first and foremost, I’m a Missionary of the Precious Blood of Christ, a member of a Society of Apostolic Life of pontifical right, whose membership was called into being by the Church in 1815, specifically to restore what was broken, and to heal the wounds of division and hostility in a world where the powerful trample over the needs of the weak and voiceless all to often. We’re a congregation of Priests and Brothers whose calling in life is to apply the merits of the Blood of Christ to each and every person who feels unworthy and undeserving of God’s love. As a Precious Blood Priest, charged with bring those who are far off, near to Christ, I urge everyone who is listening to condemn any and all behavior that results in condemnation, separation, and lack of dialogue as contrary to the Will of Christ. In my estimation, any who participate in such behavior dishonor their Christian consecration. Such behavior and judgments, in fact, run contrary to the Gospel of encounter. Such actions, especially by those who profess to have a relationship with Jesus, devalue and discredit the power of Jesus’ Precious Blood to bring all persons into a living, personal, transformative relationship with him and in his church.
So for your prayerful meditation this week, and as a means of honoring the Precious Blood of Christ, I invite you to think of one group of persons or one particular individual in your life that’s far off. I’d encourage you to consider, in prayer, how you might create an encounter with that person or group in all love and sensitivity, compassion and understanding, patience and confidence in God’s love for them. Then, I’d ask you to ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in making the sacramental encounter happen! All praise and glory to the Blood of Jesus!
Now and Forever!
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