The liturgical year and the spiritual life coincide.
This is a certainty. But how to explain it? Let me say what I understand, since it is the reason I write these reflections each week.
(1) The goal of spiritual life is to let oneself be increasingly open to the God of all creation. Doesn’t liturgy help in this?
(2) You and I are constructed so that we become ourselves completely when (and only when) we do #1 explicitly or implicitly.
(3) We love and are loved insofar as this takes place, whether we
know it or not.
(4) Jesus lived among us as a human being in time and space. Liturgy gradually exposes us to that.
All the above is the “spiritual life,” at least in this way of looking at it. Maybe we can think here about number (1) and this week's Gospel.
The gospel stories this year are being told by Mark, just as they were told last year by Matthew. The most vivid of the gospels is Mark’s. He is direct and uses fewer words, but he has more concrete details. Last week Jesus did not just “cure” Peter’s mother-in-law, a bland way of putting it. 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 asleep “on a cushion.”
Mark’s approach helps us to get the texture of the story, to listen with our imaginations, to let the life of Jesus enter in. As we receive Jesus, the Word of God, we open to the God of all creation. We share his life spiritually, partaking of it in ritual: we recall it in the readings and we receive it as sacrament. Whether we realize it explicitly or not, our goal is to “know him more clearly, love him more dearly, follow him more nearly.”
So, as hearers, we begin by quieting down, perhaps admitting how little each of us is, and we let the life of Jesus speak to us in the readings.
We might notice several things in this Sunday’s Gospel: the man who walks up to Jesus covered with scales and scabs is breaking the law. As long as the sores are on him he should “dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp,” according to the explicit instructions of the First Reading. He should be ringing a bell and crying out “Unclean, unclean!”
But Jesus does not mind. In Mark’s words, Jesus is “moved with pity.” Just three words, but they tell us so much.
There follows a wonderful statement from the leper. “If you wish, you can make me clean.” He has to believe in Jesus’ power in order to say such a thing. It is a confession of faith.
Jesus answers, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Direct, honest, so revelatory of God. The whole life of Jesus seems to consist of this desire to help those who are in trouble, to give to those who have a seed of faith, who are sharing in “spirituality.”
Finally, in an extraordinary move, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches the man. The ancient belief was that this sickness was communicable, and at the very least it was disgusting. Yet Jesus reaches out to him with care and says, “Be made clean.”
Let’s pray and ponder in our hearts this wonderful story from Mark. It tells us about God.
Doesn’t it help us open to the God of all creation?