Sunday, April 26, 2009
April 26, 2009
Yes, I’ll admit it. Ghosts fascinate me. I love a good ghost story. I love the Sci-Fi channel show Ghost Hunters. It’s one of my favorite shows. I love some of the other supposedly reality-based shows that explore haunted houses, hotels, hospitals, churches or whatever. I can’t ignore them if they are on when I am flipping through the channels.
So, yes, ghosts fascinate me, but I will also admit that I have never really believed in ghosts. However, occasionally, as a priest, I have been asked to come and intervene when someone suspects something supernatural in their homes. Sometimes people hear things—footsteps, voices, bangings—that simply cannot be explained.
One of these experiences came up shortly after I was ordained a priest. A friend of mine and her husband were experiencing strange happenings in their home. There were weird sounds, strange voices, strange phenomena. She asked me if I would come in and bless her house and see if maybe that would take care of it.
As intrigued as I was by it and as much as I saw it as a pastoral need, I also felt myself in a bit of a quandary. Was it right of me to go in and do such a thing when I personally didn’t believe in ghosts?
Since I was serving as an assisting priest at that time at the Cathedral, I went to the sabbatical dean, Bishop John Thornton, retired Bishop of Idaho. I went to him and I said, “Bishop, what should I do? These people want me to come and bless their house, but I don’t know if I should. I don’t believe in ghosts.”
The Bishop leaned back in his chair and with a twinkle in his eyes, said, very nicely, “Who cares what you believe.”
I was shocked by this. That wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear.
But he very quickly added. “It doesn’t matter what you believe, Jamie. If these people think they have a ghosts, go in and bless their house. If they need you to be an exorcist, be an exorcists. If they need you to be a ghostbuster, be a ghostbuster. Whatever they need you to be, be that. For that period of time you’re with them, believe whatever they believe. If they believe they have a ghosts, while you’re in their house, believe they have a ghost. Bless their house. Drive out whatever they think they have. And then once you get back in your car and drive home, you don’t have to believe in ghosts any more. The key is this: be what they need you to be.”
So, I went. I blessed their house. And sure enough, whatever the issue was, it didn’t never made itself known again.
Bishop Thornton’s advice was by far the best advice I ever heard. It simply blew me away. It has also been advice that I have been able to apply to many other situations in my pastoral career.
In a sense, what Bishop Thornton commended to me was to embody my life as a Christian. I needed to embody Christ for those people in their need.
In today’s Gospel, we find Jesus’ followers experiencing something they believe to be a ghost, but the experience they have is also much more incredible than a experience with a ghost. It much more life-altering.
The Jesus who stand before them—the Jesus they know had been tortured and murdered, the Jesus who breathed his last and actually died—now stands before them. But this Jesus is no ghost. He is flesh and blood. They can touch him. They can feel the wounds of his death. They can hold him. And he can eat actual food with them.
The Jesus who appears to them, who actually lives with them, is someone they no doubt cannot even begin to understand. If they thought what he said and did before the crucifixion was amazing and mind-boggling, now it is even more incredible.
This Jesus we encounter in today’s Gospel is just as incredible to us. And maybe even more so. For the people of Jesus’ day, they could actually wrap accept the fact that things happened beyond their understanding. For us, we tend to rationalize away anything we don’t understand. And the idea of someone who has died suddenly appearing before us—in the flesh, with wounds—and eat with us—is more than incredible. It seems impossible. And as we hear it, we do find ourselves beginning to rationalize it away.
Bur rationalize as we might, the fact remains: Christ is still present to us in the flesh. We, the Church, those who have collectively come together to follow Jesus, to live the Christian life, to live out what Jesus taught us—we are the physical Body of Jesus in this world still. We, with our wounds, with the signs of our past pains with all that we bring with us, are the embodiment of Jesus in this world.
And certainly, what we celebrate and partake of here at this altar—this celebration of the Eucharist, in which we experience the physical Body and Blood of Jesus in our midst, this too is a physical reality of Jesus’ Presence we can not rationalize away.
And just as Jesus sat with those he loved to eat with them, so are we called to eat as well. Here we partake of the physical Presence of Jesus and are nourished by it. And with this Presence, we become the Presence of Jesus in this world. We are then called to turn around and share what we have eaten with hose we are called to serve. Just as Jesus shared what was given him, so are we to share what is given to us. And when we do, we are Body of Who we follow.
We are not called to be ghosts. We are not called to be wraiths and specters of Christ in this world. What we experience at this altar, with this real physical Bread and this real physical wine, is not some ephemeral thing. It is real. It is physical. It something we can hold in our hands and eat and drink. We can see it, smell it, taste it. And when we partake of it, when it becomes one with us, we then are called to be living, breathing, bleeding, crying bodies in this world.
So, let us carry out this mission together. Let us partake of this physical Body here and let us be the Body of Jesus in the world. Let us sit down and eat with those with whom we serve and those we serve. Let us never be ghosts.
And as the Body of Jesus in this world, we can do what Bishop Thornton reminded me to do when I was a new priest: we can be whatever we are called to be in a particular situation. We, as the physical Body of Jesus, can adapt and mold ourselves to those situations in which we can make Jesus present in those areas in which he needs to be present. If we do, we are doing what Jesus calls us to do.
If we do so we will find that we are not frightened and that few doubts will arise in our hearts. Rather, by our presence, we will drive way those ghosts of fright and doubt.