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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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Ignatius of Loyola: The founder of the Jesuits was on his way to military fame and fortune when a cannon ball shattered his leg. Because there were no books of romance on hand during his convalescence, Ignatius whiled away the time reading a life of Christ and lives of the saints. His conscience was deeply touched, and a long, painful turning to Christ began. Having seen the Mother of God in a vision, he made a pilgrimage to her shrine at Montserrat (near Barcelona). He remained for almost a year at nearby Manresa, sometimes with the Dominicans, sometimes in a pauper’s hospice, often in a cave in the hills praying. After a period of great peace of mind, he went through a harrowing trial of scruples. There was no comfort in anything—prayer, fasting, sacraments, penance. At length, his peace of mind returned. 
<p>It was during this year of conversion that Ignatius began to write down material that later became his greatest work, the <em>Spiritual Exercises</em>. </p><p>He finally achieved his purpose of going to the Holy Land, but could not remain, as he planned, because of the hostility of the Turks. He spent the next 11 years in various European universities, studying with great difficulty, beginning almost as a child. Like many others, his orthodoxy was questioned; Ignatius was twice jailed for brief periods. </p><p>In 1534, at the age of 43, he and six others (one of whom was St. Francis Xavier, December 2) vowed to live in poverty and chastity and to go to the Holy Land. If this became impossible, they vowed to offer themselves to the apostolic service of the pope. The latter became the only choice. Four years later Ignatius made the association permanent. The new Society of Jesus was approved by Paul III, and Ignatius was elected to serve as the first general. </p><p>When companions were sent on various missions by the pope, Ignatius remained in Rome, consolidating the new venture, but still finding time to found homes for orphans, catechumens and penitents. He founded the Roman College, intended to be the model of all other colleges of the Society. </p><p>Ignatius was a true mystic. He centered his spiritual life on the essential foundations of Christianity—the Trinity, Christ, the Eucharist. His spirituality is expressed in the Jesuit motto, <i>ad majorem Dei gloriam</i>—“for the greater glory of God.” In his concept, obedience was to be the prominent virtue, to assure the effectiveness and mobility of his men. All activity was to be guided by a true love of the Church and unconditional obedience to the Holy Father, for which reason all professed members took a fourth vow to go wherever the pope should send them for the salvation of souls.</p> American Catholic Blog Jesus’s humanity and His biological need to be fed Himself gives power and personal force to His teaching that when we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, we do it to Him.

 
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