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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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Columban: Columban was the greatest of the Irish missionaries who worked on the European continent. As a young man who was greatly tormented by temptations of the flesh, he sought the advice of a religious woman who had lived a hermit’s life for years. He saw in her answer a call to leave the world. He went first to a monk on an island in Lough Erne, then to the great monastic seat of learning at Bangor. 
<p>After many years of seclusion and prayer, he traveled to Gaul (modern-day France) with 12 companion missionaries. They won wide respect for the rigor of their discipline, their preaching, and their commitment to charity and religious life in a time characterized by clerical laxity and civil strife. Columban established several monasteries in Europe which became centers of religion and culture. </p><p>Like all saints, he met opposition. Ultimately he had to appeal to the pope against complaints of Frankish bishops, for vindication of his orthodoxy and approval of Irish customs. He reproved the king for his licentious life, insisting that he marry. Since this threatened the power of the queen mother, Columban was deported to Ireland. His ship ran aground in a storm, and he continued his work in Europe, ultimately arriving in Italy, where he found favor with the king of the Lombards. In his last years he established the famous monastery of Bobbio, where he died. His writings include a treatise on penance and against Arianism, sermons, poetry and his monastic rule.</p> American Catholic Blog There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing. –Bishop Fulton Sheen

 
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