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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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Bernadette Soubirous: Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844, the first child of an extremely poor miller in the town of Lourdes in southern France. The family was living in the basement of a dilapidated building when on February 11,1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near Lourdes. Bernadette, 14 years old, was known as a virtuous girl though a dull student who had not even made her first Holy Communion. In poor health, she had suffered from asthma from an early age. 
<p>There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette's initial reports provoked skepticism, her daily visions of "the Lady" brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig. </p><p>According to Bernadette, the Lady of her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception." It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to realize who the Lady was. </p><p>Few visions have ever undergone the scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862. </p><p>During her life Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until at last she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. But within four months of her arrival she was given the last rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows. She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. </p><p>She was canonized in 1933.</p> American Catholic Blog In humility, a woman ultimately forgets 
herself; forgets both her shortcomings and accomplishments equally and 
strives to remain empty of self to make room for Jesus, just as Mary 
did.

 
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