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Bible Reflections View Comments

Spirits Grounded in the Earth
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, October 13, 2013
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When I was in Italy on pilgrimage, I couldn’t help but be aware of the ground beneath my feet. Our group walked a lot, especially in and around Assisi. As we climbed to the hermitage on Mount Subasio, I discovered several heart-shaped rocks that then I tucked away and brought home. They are among my most cherish mementos of that journey.

In today’s first reading, Naaman, a military general afflicted with leprosy, was persuaded to seek healing from a Hebrew prophet. Throughout the story, Naaman has to overcome a tendency to look down on the Hebrew serving girl who suggests this course of action, and then the mundane command by Elijah to wash in the Jordan River.

Once he’s healed, Naaman wants to give Elijah a gift, but his request is refused. We know Naaman has learned the lesson of humility when he asks for two mule-loads of earth. He regards it as sacred ground from the land of Israel, the promised land.

A superficial reading of this story might suggest that Naaman is something of an oddball, a man with pagan roots who sees some sort of magical properties in this pile of dirt. But there is an unmistakably primal significance to this gesture. The connection between earth and spirit has been unbreakable in our religious life.

In the Gospel story for today, Luke once again shows his readers that sometimes it’s the stranger, the Samaritan, the “sinner” who gets it right while the “religious” people miss the point. Jesus cures ten lepers and sends them off to the temple to have their cures verified, and only the Samaritan returns to say thanks.

Too often we miss the grace that’s right in front of us. In our quest for something other-worldly and spectacular, we overlook the everyday miracles that surround us.

We are rooted, grounded people. We tend to identify with places, with geographical locations, even with bits of earth or bottles of water from sacred places. This is partly because as Catholics we’re a sacramental people. The “stuff,” the matter of the sacraments, is an important part of the rituals: water, bread, oil, touch.

At times we over-spiritualize our faith and our religious life. The strong influence of Greek philosophy on the early Christians led them to separate spirit (good) and matter (bad). Centuries of theologians have further intellectualized Christianity. It’s good to have reminders like today’s readings that our faith needs to be grounded in the everyday realities of life.

Setting up a small prayer altar in the home, or even the simple act of lighting candles before mealtime prayers, can be reminders that God is really present with us at all times. And once a routine is established, children are quick to remind us if we forget.

I remember such rituals from my childhood with great fondness and feel a need to return to them today to get out of my head and into celebrating the great gift of faith with my whole being. It need not be anything elaborate: a bowl of holy water by the door, a candle on the table, a picture of someone who made a difference in my journey to God.

These things are ways to remember the God who gave us life, who made us whole, who healed us of the separation that marred human creation after the fall. They remind us that paradise itself was first envisioned as a garden. Christ has redeemed all of creation, and we encounter God’s grace there.


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Anthony Grassi: Anthony’s father died when his son was only 10 years old, but the young lad inherited his father’s devotion to Our Lady of Loreto. As a schoolboy he frequented the local church of the Oratorian Fathers, joining the religious order when he was 17.
<p>Already a fine student, he soon gained a reputation in his religious community as a "walking dictionary" who quickly grasped Scripture and theology. For some time he was tormented by scruples, but they reportedly left him at the very hour he celebrated his first Mass. From that day, serenity penetrated his very being.
</p><p>In 1621, at age 29, Anthony was struck by lightning while praying in the church of the Holy House at Loreto. He was carried paralyzed from the church, expecting to die. When he recovered in a few days he realized that he had been cured of acute indigestion. His scorched clothes were donated to the Loreto church as an offering of thanks for his new gift of life.
</p><p>More important, Anthony now felt that his life belonged entirely to God. Each year thereafter he made a pilgrimage to Loreto to express his thanks.
</p><p>He also began hearing confessions, and came to be regarded as an outstanding confessor. Simple and direct, he listened carefully to penitents, said a few words and gave a penance and absolution, frequently drawing on his gift of reading consciences.
</p><p>In 1635 he was elected superior of the Fermo Oratory. He was so well regarded that he was reelected every three years until his death. He was a quiet person and a gentle superior who did not know how to be severe. At the same time he kept the Oratorian constitutions literally, encouraging the community to do likewise.
</p><p>He refused social or civic commitments and instead would go out day or night to visit the sick or dying or anyone else needing his services. As he grew older, he had a God-given awareness of the future, a gift which he frequently used to warn or to console.
</p><p>But age brought its challenges as well. He suffered the humility of having to give up his physical faculties one by one. First was his preaching, necessitated after he lost his teeth. Then he could no longer hear confessions. Finally, after a fall, he was confined to his room. The archbishop himself came each day to give him holy Communion. One of Anthony’s final acts was to reconcile two fiercely quarreling brothers.</p> American Catholic Blog God of love, as I come to the end of this Advent season, my heart is ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I join with Mary in saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Nothing is impossible with you, O God.

 
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