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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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James Oldo: You’ve heard rags-to-riches stories. Today, we celebrate the reverse. 
<p>James of Oldo was born into a well-to-do family near Milan in 1364. He married a woman who, like him, appreciated the comforts that came with wealth. But an outbreak of plague drove James, his wife and their three children out of their home and into the countryside. Despite those precautions, two of his daughters died from the plague, James determined to use whatever time he had left to build up treasures in heaven and to build God’s realm on earth. </p><p>He and his wife became Secular Franciscans. James gave up his old lifestyle and did penance for his sins. He cared for a sick priest, who taught him Latin. Upon the death of his wife, James himself became a priest. His house was transformed into a chapel where small groups of people, many of them fellow Secular Franciscans, came for prayer and support. James focused on caring for the sick and for prisoners of war. He died in 1404 after contracting a disease from one of his patients. </p><p>James Oldo was beatified in 1933.</p> American Catholic Blog Charity for the poor is like a living flame: the more dry the wood, the brighter it burns.


 
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