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Sixth Sunday In Ordinary Times (6B), Feb. 12, 2012
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
The liturgical year and the spiritual life coincide. But how?
In the following I do not mean to leave aside the most crucial elements of liturgy: ritual, sacrament, real presence, communion, the Body of Christ. Through all these we grow to “(know) him more clearly, love him more dearly, follow him more nearly.”
But the purpose of the reflections I write each week is to underline the deep spirituality of the readings we hear each Sunday. So it makes sense to look for a connection in the weekly scripture. I will make a general remark about Sunday readings and then apply it to the ones from this Sunday.
In this Church year, the Gospel stories are told by Mark, just as they were narrated by Matthew last year. But Mark’s is the most vivid of the Gospels. He is direct and uses few words. Moreover, he has many concrete details. For instance, last week Jesus did not just “cure” Peter’s mother-in-law, he “grasped her hand, and helped her up.” When Jesus stills the storm at sea, he is not just “in the boat,” he is “at the stern” of it, according to Mark; and he is not just asleep, but sleeping “on a cushion.”
Mark’s approach helps us to get the texture of the story, to listen with our imaginations and let the life of Jesus enter in. This happens especially if you and I take some time before we get to Mass (perhaps using the present website!) to understand and pray the readings spiritually.
Here are a few things to notice about this coming Sunday’s Gospel. A man walks up to Jesus covered with scales and scabs. The man is thereby committing a terrible social blunder and he may be breaking the law too. According to the prescriptions found in the First Reading, he should “dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp” as long as the sores are on him. He should ring a bell and cry “Unclean, unclean!”
In spite of all this, Jesus is not repulsed or shocked. He is “moved with pity.” Just three words, but they tell us so much, as is Mark’s way.
Then a wonderful statement from the leper. “If you want to, you can make me clean”: a confession of faith in just a few words. How did he know it? His spiritual life had already begun.
Jesus answers, “I do want to.”
Direct, honest, so revealing of God. The whole life of Jesus consists of this desire to help people who are in trouble, even if they have only a small faith by which to receive the cure.
In an extraordinary move, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the man. Remember, the ancients thought that this sickness was communicable, and obviously, at the very least, it was disgusting. Yet Jesus touches him with care and says, “Be made clean.”
Look at it. Our spiritual life consists of being “made clean.” We must let Jesus touch us and touch our souls. Here in the very first chapter of Mark we already see how Jesus began to extend his spiritual mercy toward the leper and toward all of us.
Look for more of the same as we make our way through Mark’s Gospel.