Saturday, February 28, 2009

Our Names

“I am trembling in this presence of your hate.”
—Jean Stafford


Names are sacred—
even to those who

hold nothing sacred.
We use them only

for others, it seems. Other
names are placed

in the open
for everyone to see.

Yet, between us
we have reduced

each other to
the barest minimum.

We wonder—
do we know what

our avoidance does?
Do we measure

the results of our
protestant distance—

our awkward attempts
at affection

or longing?
It is so easy for you—

it’s in your blood
after all, like

hereditary murder
or alcoholism—

to inflict destruction
and call it something else—

something innocent-sounding
and almost gentle.

Let’s call it something—
this cold distance between us.

Let’s name it with a name
we refuse to call each other.

And when we do,
it will take on essence.

It will be what we call it.
And we will find ourselves

whispering its name
to ourselves

in those nights
when sleep ignores us.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday


February 25, 2009

Psalm 51

As a priest, I have disposed of my share of ashes. By ashes, I mean cremated remains. I have interred them in the walls of columbariums. I have scattered them. The majority I have buried in the ground. I have heard of some of the ashes where divided and given to family members. I have prayed the committal service over the ashes of strangers, of friends, of very closer friends and of many relatives.

And what I have discovered is that the ashes have all, essentially, looked alike. Some might be lighter in color than others. Some might be of a different consistency than others. But essentially, all the ashes have been the same. I could not tell one set of ashes apart form the other. In a sense, what cremation did to those bodies was equalize them. It reduced those bodies into something similar.

Michael Harper, in his poem “We Assume: On the Death of Our Son, Reuben Masai Harper,” uses the wonderful phrase: “a disposable cremation.” That is exactly what cremation does: it makes our remains more disposable.

I am reminded of the ashes of all those people, all those parishioners and loved ones, that I have buried over the years every year on Ash Wednesday. But I am also reminded of the ashes of someone else—namely, myself.

This is what Ash Wednesday is about to some extent—it is about all of us facing the stark reality of our lives: we are all going to die one day. We are all essentially ashes. We are all going to be dust one day. Our bodies, as essential as they are to us right now, will eventually be disposed of.

In earlier eras of the church, it was a tradition in some religious order to leave an actual human skull around. I remember my friend, Brother Benet Tvedten, OSB talking about how he and his mother visited the Carmelite monastery in Wahpeton, North Dakota in the 1950s. They were shocked, as they toured it, to see a human skull sitting on a table.

These human skulls were known as momento mori—a remembrance of one’s own death. When one looked at the skull, one was to remind one’s self that they were, more or less, looking into a mirror. They were to reflect on the fact that one day, they too would be a skull.

For me, ashes are essentially the same. When I look at the ashes of the people I bury, I am reminded that I too will be ashes like this. I too will be reduced to something disposable. One day someone will be praying over my ashes, will be placing my ashes in the ground and burying them. I too will go back to the earth and become one with it.

These ashes were share tonight are our momento mori. They are of us what those skulls were for earlier Christians. When these ashes are brought forward and place don our foreheads, we are reminded that this is what we will be one day. We are dust and to dust we shall all return.

But as morbid as this thinking is, it is also tinged with a strange joy. Because we know that we not just our bodies. We are more than just bodies. And that, while our bodies will die, will become dust, will be disposed of, we will live.

The season of Lent we are about to enter is a reminder to us that although we must go through this physical experience of our bodies, there is also another experience awaiting us—resurrection. Our bodies are ashes. We are dust, but we will rise again from this dust and live.

In the psalm we will sing together in a few moments, we will sing these words,

Deliver me from death, O God,*
and my tongue shall sing of your righteousness,
O God of my salvation.

Death, as unpleasant as it is to experience, is not the ultimate experience we will have. Life—this life we are experiencing now and the fulfillment of this life ins Christ following our death, will be the ultimate experience. Life will triumph over death. Resurrection will triumph over the grave. The ashes we carry with us now as our bodies will give way to something incorruptible. God will deliver us, and when God does, we will sing of God’s goodness.

For now, though, let us come forward and let us be reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Let us look at the ashes we are about to receive and remember our mortality, our limitations, our frailties. But as we do, let us also remember that, with God, ashes flourish into new life, mortality gives way to life without death, limitations are broken and frailty gives way to renewal and strength.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shrove Tuesday/Burying the Alleluia




February 24, 2009

Tonight, we bury the Alleluia. I love this tradition in the Church. I love it for the symbolism, but I also love it for its practicality. After all, I am the worst offender of saying Alleluia out of habit during Lent when the word is officially retired.

But why go through this ceremony? Well, I guess I approach it from the perspective of a poet. For me, words are important and, as a Christian, the word Alleluia is one of the most important. It means, “Praise Yahweh,” Praise God. The word is a verbal expression of what happens in our hearts and souls when we encounter God. Still, I must confess, I take it horribly for granted. I say it without thinking every day. I say it out of habit when I pray the Daily Office. I say it without a second thought during Mass. And I know that on Sunday, will be the one who says it when I shouldn’t be saying it. Sometime, probably around Palm Sunday, I will finally get it through my head and remember not to say and by that time, it will be too late anyway.

But the other reason I think it’s important to do this little ceremony is because, despite the fact that I forget not to say during Lent and oftentimes don’t think about the word the rest of the time, at the Easter Vigil and on Easter morning, the word carries more weight than it ever does. I say it at that time joyfully. I say it with true and pure gusto on Easter. It makes me appreciate the word Alleluia once again. The feeling the word creates in me at that time is very similar to what I feel when I hear the word sung by Jeff Buckley in his gorgeously haunting version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AratTMGrHaQ Every time Jeff Buckley sing that song, I melt inside. The word as sung by him takes on a depth and beauty I have never felt before for a single word. This feeling—this deep and real appreciation of this sacred and holy word—is why the ceremony is important.

There are other words that are just as sacred, if not more, that should probably be retired temporarily as well and in such a way. But for now, this word is the chosen word and we do so tonight with real purpose.

Tonight, as we set this beautiful word aside for a temporary break, let us take a moment to think about how important this word is for us. Let us appreciate it as we never have. And during our fast from this word, let us be reminded of how important this word is, so when the Light of Easter breaks into our lives again, it will be word that comes not only from our lips, but from our very hearts and souls as well.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Fasting?


One of the classics of Anglican spirituality is a wonderful little book called Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book. To our modern, skeptical eyes, the book may seem quaint, overly pious and dizzyingly High Church in a spiky kind of way. Still, it is a book I find myself returning to again and again. Despite its seemingly fussy manner, it is also a surprisingly practical book. It gives solid and thought-provoking advice on such issues as fasting, which it describes as our “Christian duty.”

In the prayer book, fasting and abstinence are defined in this way: Abstinence is seen as a way in which “the quality of food is lowered, usually by not eating meat.” Fasting means that, in addition to abstaining, one also reduces the quality of food as well.

Throughout the history of the Church, fasting and abstinence have been a vital and important part of Christian spirituality. Like our regular lives, our Christian lives are marked by periods of feasting and fasting.

To begin, we need to recognize that, according to Scripture, all foods are essentially clean. As Christians, we do not have to concern ourselves with religiously unclean foods as our Jewish predecessors did. However following the example of Jesus and early Christians, we find fasting has always been spiritual discipline that has been commended to us. In the words of another spiky but popular prayer book in the Anglican tradition, The Practice of Religion, fasting is defined succinctly and bluntly in this way:

“The Bible teaches it. The Church commands it. Our Lord practiced it…This is a great help in disciplining the will and strengthening the character and developing self-discipline.”

As we prepare ourselves for Lent, we should also seriously consider fasting and why it is important to our own spiritual understanding. Although all foods are clean, excessive eating is, as we all have all no doubt discovered, extremely unhealthy. Most of us eat without much thoughtfulness of what we are eating or why. Oftentimes, we simply eat out of habit. We eat because our schedule tells us it is time to eat, but often not when we are really hungry.

Fasting during Lent is a way for us to be mindful of what we eat and why we eat it. Giving up meat on certain days (such as Friday) or during the whole season of Lent, often helps us take into consideration the fact that food is not just a major factor in our daily living, but also in our spiritual lives as well.

As we begin Lent, let us thoughtfully and prayerfully think about the food we eat and why we eat it. Let us choose our fasts carefully, so that we can find ourselves improved by the discipline of our Lenten journey.

Let us be mindful of the foods we do eat—mindful of the production of that food, mindful of the environmental expenses of growing that food, mindful of the fact that as fortunate as we are to live in our society of plenty, others are not as fortunate to partake of the quantity and quality of food we take for granted.

Let us avoid gluttony, which St. Augustine’s Prayer Book defines as “the overindulgence of natural appetites for food and drink, and by extension the inordinate quest for pleasure or comfort.” Let us avoid eating to excess—eating more than we physically need. Let us avoid eating for emotional comfort rather than physical sustenance.

Let us also consider the traditional Eucharistic fast, which usually consists of fasting at least an hour before receiving Holy Communion, except in those occasions when our health prevents us from fasting. This particular fast is not seen as an act of penance, but rather a way of once again being mindful that in addition to the food we eat for sustenance, we also partake of the Holy Communion to sustain us spiritually as well.

Finally, let us return to that age-old practice of grace before meals. Before we eat, whether alone, in a restaurant, with our families or with a group of people, let us pause and quietly thank God for the food we receive. Let our “grace time” be a period in which we also pray for those who have little or no food. Let us also be grateful for those responsible for providing that food for us.

As a congregation, we at St. Stephen’s are strive by example to be more mindful of the food we eat. We will be providing meatless soups and other foods during the Wednesday night Lenten suppers we are assigned.

Our Lenten journey can be a time of true renewal and reflection. Truly, “the joy of God’s forgiveness sustains us on this journey.” (TaizĂ© Prayer for Each Day). I pray that your Lent will be a holy and meaningful season and that during it you will find yourself prepared in new and glorious ways to be a living witness and reflection of the Resurrection of Christ.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Last Epiphany


(Transfiguration Sunday)/
Baptism of Hattie Mae Kost
February 22, 2009

Gethsemane Cathedral
Fargo

2 Kings 2.1-12; Mark 9.2-9

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday on which we hear this Gospel reading of Jesus’ being transformed on the mountain top. It is also the last Sunday in Epiphany. On Wednesday—Ash Wednesday—we enter the long, gray season Lent. But for now, on this last Sunday of Epiphany, we get a last glimpse of the Light. This Light on Mount Tabor will sustain us through the Season of Lent until we come upon that glorious Light of Easter morning. Now, here, as we encounter Jesus on the mountain top, we are witnessing something glorious and beautiful.

For a moment, the veil between our world and God’s world is pushed aside. On that mountain top, Jesus seems for a moment to have one foot in each world—one in this world, in which he is a human being just like the rest of us, and one foot in the next world in which he is much more than just another human being.

Most of us have a hard time wrapping our minds around these images of dazzling white light and booming voices from clouds. We don’t experience God like this in our lives. Still, we long for an experience like this. Certainly, we are longing and searching for God in our lives. That is why we are here this Sunday morning. We come here, to church, because we long for God—we long for an experience similar to the experience on the mountaintop in today’s Gospel..

So then, what is this story of the Transfiguration saying to us? Do we too need to be crawling around on mountaintops to find a place in which the veil between this world and God’s world is lifted? Actually, we don’t. We don’t because, every Sunday, every time we gather together to celebrate the Eucharist, we experience something similar to what happened on Mount Tabor. In a sense, when we come together today, here at this altar, we too are coming to a place very much like the mountain top experience we heard about in this morning’s Gospel. In the scriptures we have just heard, we have heard God’s voice. When we celebrate Holy Communion together at the altar, when Jesus comes to us in the bread and the wine, when the bread and the win become his Body and Blood—for a moment, the thin veil between this world and God’s world is parted. We too are able to come close to Jesus, our friend and companion, Jesus our God, and see him—if only under the appearance of a wafer and wine. We too get to hear him, even when the voice sounds like a friend and companion in our very own parish.

Today, as we come together to baptize Hattie Kost, we definitely get to see the veil between this world and God’s world lifted for a moment. We too are reminded that when we ourselves were baptized, that veil was lifted for us and the Light that shown on Jesus on Mount Tabor showed on us as well.

But I think the interesting thing we must remind ourselves is this: it’s all right to search for God, to seek out these experiences of God’s presence in our lives. But our searching and longing for God is different than others because, in our case, as Christians, our God is not evasive. God is not playing hide-and-seek-with us. God is here. All we have to is look. All we have to do is seek. And we will find. We have never lost our God.

God has come to us as dazzling Light, yes. God has spoken to us—at least through the scriptures—with a booming voice from heaven, yes. But God has also come to us as one of us. God has come to us in Jesus. God comes to us in the Jesus we share with each other here in the Bread and the Wine at the altar, in the Jesus we share with each other in our own very presence as the people of God. God has come to us in the Jesus we encounter in our baptisms, in those waters that renew us and revive us and bring us to God.

We search for God. We long for God. But we are also able to find God. God is no further for us than right here, in our midst, when gather together to worship, to hear the scriptures and to break the bread that is Jesus’ body.

And like those disciples in today’s Gospel, we must, when we’re done, go from here. We must leave the mountaintop experience and go back down, to share our experience, to live out what we have learned and felt here.

This is the other reason I think our experience as Christians is different than others. Others seem to be looking for God for themselves. They long for God to fill whatever empty space is within them. It is their own personal experience. Certainly there’s nothing wrong with that. When it comes right down to it, our experience with God is ultimately personal. When all is said and done, we are the only ones who can present ourselves honestly before God. But our experience of God is more than just filling the emptiness within us. Our experience of Jesus is more than just, as the old Depeche Mode song lamented, “our own personal Jesus.” We are compelled—by the words we hear in the scriptures, by the spirit of Christ we take with us from this Holy Communion, by the relationships we form with Jesus in our baptisms—to live that experience out in the world. To share it. Now, I’m not saying we need to preach from the street corners. We’re good Episcopalians, after all. We just don’t do that. Besides, preaching from the street corners doesn’t always do it for others. We need to preach the Gospel by what we do and how we act. We can live out the experience we have with Christ here in how we live our lives—in how we carry ourselves and in what we do and say. I firmly believe that some of the best evangelizing anyone can do is by example.

That doesn’t mean being judgmental and holier-than-thou either. It doesn’t mean having a cheap, saccharinely sweet form of Christianity. Rather, we need to strive to be authentic Christians, not phony and vindictive Christians as I’m sure we ourselves have encountered over the years. Being an authentic Christian means being loving and compassionate people. It means walking in love.

Of course, we will fail in that. I fail in walking in love all the time—in being compassionate and loving. I get angry at the injustices in the world around me and. petty as it is, I get angry at the guy who cuts me off in traffic. I complain. I grumble. I am not always a walking, talking billboard for the Christians faith. But hopefully, our experience here—our encounter with God in this holy place on this holy day—can make enough of a difference in our lives that we will be able to carry it with us throughout our week and into our very day-to-day lives.

Hopefully, we can go from here glowing with the experience we have here. That glow might not be a visible glow, but hopefully it is one we can feel deep within us. That glow—that aftereffect of our experience of God—is what we can carry with us and cherish within us long after we leave here.

Of course, we also need to face the facts about not only the story we have heard in today’s Gospel, but in what we have celebrated here at the altar. The Transfiguration is a foretelling of the glory that awaits Jesus, but it is a glory that comes with an awful price. It comes only after Jesus has been tortured and murdered. What we celebrate today at the altar, is a remembrance of the violent death of Jesus and his triumph over that death. And not just over his death. It is a triumph over our deaths as well. The Transfiguration shows us that God—not us—gets the last word. We, as Christians, as much as we’d like to, can’t go around being happy-clappy all the time.

Our experience on the mountain-top—like all life-altering experiences—will fade from us eventually. It did for those apostles who accompanied Jesus there. All of them—Jesus, Peter, James and John—would experience much sorrow in the weeks and years ahead of them. Three of the four would die violent deaths. The experience of the mountaintop cannot be preserved. Like all the wonderful moments in our lives, they can only be cherished. And they can be shared. But we have the continued opportunity to come back and to participate in it again and again.

God is here. God is present among us—God’s people. God is longing too. God is longing for us—to know us and to have us experience God. So, today, go from here—go back down the mountain, into the valley below, with your experience of God’s presence in your life glowing brilliantly on your faces. Cherish it and live it out in your life. To paraphrase, George Herbert, the great Anglican priest and poet, be a window pane for that dazzling Light of God. It doesn’t matter how dirty the pane is. It doesn’t matter if the pane is chipped and cracked. God will still shine through. But just do it—just reflect in any way that you can, that Light of God in all aspects of your life. And when you do, you will find that Light of God can truly be shared. It can be spread from one person to another. And it can transform not only Jesus on the mountaintop, but all of us in ways we can only just barely imagine.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

6 Epiphany


February 15, 2009

Mark 1.40-45

In this morning’s Gospel, in which Jesus encounters the leper, we find what the great Anglican theologian Reginald Fuller describes as a “threefold pattern.” We find, first of all, the diagnosis. The man Jesus encounters is a leper. Next, we find the cure. Jesus touches the man, Jesus says to him, “Be made clean.” By touch and by word, the man is cured. Finally we have the demonstration. He is commanded to go to the priest in accordance with the Law.

It is a simple, very straightforward story. But what we find this morning it is not so much what Jesus says that captures our attention. It is what Jesus does. Or rather, it is what Jesus feels.

On hearing the leper’s pleas, Jesus was moved with pity. Pity might not be the right word here. The Greek word used in the original manuscript means something much more than just being filled with pity. The Greek word can be translated literally to mean he was moved in his bowels.

Now as uncomfortable as that may sound to our modern ears, this is important. The meaning here is that Jesus wasn’t simply “moved to pity.” He was moved to his very core with compassion. This may seem to strange to us. When we think of being moved to compassion, we may not think of it coming from..of all places…our bowels. When we think of compassion, we might think of it coming from possibly our hearts. But this idea of the important feelings and emotions coming from our very core is a belief that has been long-held.

Think about love, for example. When we fall in love, we often don’t feel love in our chests—in our hearts—despite the popular tradition of heart-shaped valentines—which this past weekend has been filled with. More often than not, we feel that deep and abiding love in our core. Remember what it felt like to fall in love for the first time. It felt oftentimes like you were sick to your stomach, didn’t it? I think that’s because it does truly come from that deep center of ourselves. The same can be said for anger. Oftentimes, when we feel angry, we end up feeling almost sick—sick in that center. Or when we get stressed out, we find ourselves tightening up in that place. So, when we hear about Jesus being moved deeply—being moved from his bowels—we find that Jesus is feeling compassion from the very center of not only his body, but in a sense, from his very soul and spirit.

This compassion of Jesus knew no bounds. He was so deeply moved that he became almost driven in his compassion. This compassion drove Jesus to break the religious law of his time. Jesus actually touched a leper—the poster child of uncleanliness for Jews in Jesus’ day. According to the Law of his day, doing so should have made Jesus unclean as well. But this compassion of Jesus drove him to do the impossible. It was not the uncleanliness of the leper that prevailed. It was not the binding structures of the Law that won out. It was the pureness of Jesus’ compassion that won out.

Driven by his compassion—driven by that emotion that came up from that place deep within him—Jesus healed what everyone believed could not be healed. In a sense, what Jesus does, is he becomes, in many ways, the leper. That’s what it means to have compassion—to put one’s self in another’s place. Jesus understands in a very deep and profound way what it is like to be this marginalized man. Jesus does not simply float around like some demi-god—detached from those suffering people who come to him for healing, granting a healing here and there from on-high. Jesus is not so far above the sufferings of the people around him. Jesus actually feels for the leper. And touching him, Jesus healed him.

One of my favorite group of people commemorated in the Episcopal Church is Sister Constance and the so-called “Martyrs of Memphis.” Sr. Constance, along with Sisters Thecla, Ruth and Frances, where Episcopal nuns (yes, there are Episcopal nuns), members of the Order of St. Mary. In the summer of 1878, these sisters, along with two Episcopal priests, Charles Carroll Parsons and Louis Schuyler, were serving in Memphis Tennessee when an outbreak of Yellow Fever spread through out the city. Yellow Fever is a highly contagious disease and, in 1878, was lethal. This was a plague in the purest sense of the word. Hundreds of people died. And many people not affected, simply turned away and left. But not these sisters and priests. Knowing full well that their decision to stay and minister to the sick and dying possibly meant their own exposure to the Fever and their eventual death, they decided to stay. And one by one they contracted the Fever and died.

But, even then, they saved hundreds of orphaned children from dying unattended and alone after their parents had died. Today, there is a beautiful ikon of the martyrs of Memphis, written by Br Tobias Haller, BSG. In it, we can see each of the martyrs and above them is Jesus. In the ikon he is represented as a child, a reminder to all of us that when those nuns and priests stayed to help those children, they were truly serving Christ.

Constance and her companions knew the kind of compassion that moved Jesus. It was a similar compassion that no doubt moved them to stay, to minister against the odds, to minister when everyone else thought what they were doing was foolish and suicidal. These women, these white women in that segregated world, were, by circumstances privileged. And yet they became, like the leper, marginalized. They, like Jesus, were moved deeply—at their very core—toward doing something—doing anything—to make a change in the world. They, in the truest sense, helped further the Kingdom of God among themselves.

This is what the Kingdom of God is. It isn’t just waiting for us in some heady, cloud-filled afterlife. It is right here—right now—in our very midst. It begins here. It begins now. The kingdom of God comes among us when we make that move outside our boundaries—outside those lines that hold us in place and make us less than we are. When we hear of Jesus being moved to his very core by the pleas of those who want to be healed, how can we not be moved in a similar way when we hear the pleas of those around us who want our help and compassion? How can we not strive to do just that in our own world—to open ourselves to such an extent that we not just do, but feel the Kingdom of God into being.

So take to heart the example of the Martyrs of Memphis. Let the memory of Jesus’ deep-felt compassion for the leper move deep within you as well as you strive to do good and to bring the Kingdom of God closer for yourself and for those who are pleading to you.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

5 Epiphany


February 8, 2009

I just returned from Florida, where I had a glorious time, despite cool weather. However, on my last day, I found myself feeling a bit under the weather. On the plane back to North Dakota, I became sicker and sicker and by the time I arrived in Fargo, I was running a fever. I had the flu. These last few days were lost days for me. I languished under a fever that took hold and would not let go. Last night, finally, my fever broke and I awoke this morning feeling refreshed and renewed. I told a friend this morning that I felt as though I had been resurrected from the dead.

It just so happens that we encounter a fever in our Gospel reading for today. Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering with a severe fever—certainly a fever that caused everyone in her life to worry.

Fevers are ugly, awful things and for those of us who have suffered through fevers and illnesses, we can easily imagine what Peter’s poor mother-in-law dealt with in her illness. I can tell that, form my perspective, these past few days were miserable to say the last. But they were also foggy days for me. I just sort of shut down when dealing with the flu and found myself in a state in which I didn’t “think” anymore. I made feeble attempts at prayer during the time, but for the most part, I simply just turned everything off and tried to escape into a cocoon of nothingness.

The worse part of the fever for me was that I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be well, nor could I imagine what it would feel like to ever be well again. The fever encompassed me just that fully. It took complete control of my life.

Sometimes the fevers of our lives aren’t fevers in the traditional sense. Often the fevers of our lives are things like depression. The poet Anne Sexton suffered with depression throughout most of her adult life. She eventually committed suicide. In her poems that word “fever” kept surfacing again and again. For her, her depression was very much a an all-encompassing fever from which she felt she could not escape. For anyone who has suffered with depression, one finds a certain “shutting off” as well. Often times this “shutting off” is a survival tactic—sometimes the only way one can navigate through the encroaching fogs of depression without resorting to absolute despair.

Another way we look at fever is also when we refer to passion or lust. Again, we find something that encompasses us completely. Again, we find ourselves dealing with a “shutting off” of sorts. When we become enflamed with passion or lust, we enter into that hot fog in which very few other things matter.

Fever is a terrible thing—whether it be a physical, mental or emotional fever. It shuts us down and puts us in a place that can be frightening. And when fevers lift, we find ourselves almost jubilant. We find ourselves refreshed and renewed.

There is a wonderful prayer to Christ in the Russian Orthodox Church that I love:

Thou Who by Thy touch didst heal Peter's mother-in-law who was sick with fever, do Thou now, in Thy loving-kindness, heal Thy terribly-suffering servant of her malady, quickly granting her health, we diligently pray Thee, O Fount of healing, hearken and have mercy.

That single touch from Jesus allowed that fever to lift from Peter’s mother-in-law in her agony. And when she rose up from her bed, she did the only thing she no doubt could do to show her gratitude: she served Jesus.

This morning, I was prepared not be in church. I had already asked Pastor Strobel last night if he would cover for me because I couldn’t possibly imagine that I could be here this morning. But when I did awake this morning and realized that the fever had lifted, I felt renewed. I too, like Peter’s mother-in-law, wanted to get and serve—in my case, I wanted to serve Mass.

The fevers in our lives will come upon us in many ways. They will come and they will dominate us. They will shut us off and they will make us think that nothing else exists or will ever exists except the fever.

But when we find ourselves praying to Jesus, Thou Who by Thy touch didst heal Peter's mother-in-law who was sick with fever, do Thou now, in Thy loving-kindness, heal Thy terribly-suffering servant, we find that touch does, in fact heal. That touch is able to lift the fever from us. And when it does, we find that darkness replaced with joy and gladness.

There will be fevers in various forms in our lives. However, we can never let those fevers win out. We must not let the fires of those fevers consume us and turn us to ashes. Rather, we should, when their fires rage, turn in our illness and despair to that healing hand which draws close to us in that fevered moment. That cool hand, when it touches us, drives the fires of our fevers away from us and replaces that fever with a sense of joy and renewal and life.

So, let us, with a feeling of joy and renewal, rise up from our sick beds and let us serve Christ. Let us get up and go out into the world renewed and rejuvenated so that we can proclaim the message to whomever will listen.