Recognizing the Humanity of Our Faith
Last Saturday our family returned from a week-long beach vacation in the Outer Banks. It was an unparalleled week of perfect weather, especially considering it was the end of August and beginning of September. As I sat on the shoreline recharging my "batteries", contemplating the waves, water and sand, I realized that in a small way I was imitating Christ and His life on earth. Jesus is both God and man, and so many of His actions throughout his life on earth acknowledged and filled human physical needs. Our family tries to go to the beach once a year because we recognize how it fills so many of our needs to renew, refresh, reconnect and relax. How often did Jesus return to the seashore? He did not only go there for work, but withdrew and rested. It seems that Christ also found the water and waves restful.
Throughout the Gospels and the Liturgy we see further how Christ acknowledges and meets our human needs. This past Sunday's Gospel of the healing of the deaf-mute man is only found in Mark (7:31-37). Jesus uses the sense of touch, taste and hearing to heal the man's physical ailments, putting his fingers in the man's ears, spitting on his fingers before touching the man's tongue, and groaning the word Ephphatha. There is a great physicality in this Gospel passage. Oftentimes the word "sacramentality" is used to describe such actions. This isn't to say this healing was a sacrament or a sacramental, but that the combination of using the senses, familiar human needs and expressions and physical means to convey both a physical and spiritual action is imitation of the sacraments. And that sacramentality is repeated throughout the Gospels and manifested throughout the Liturgical Year, and brought home especially in our Domestic Churches.
The Marian feast days of this week also emphasize the humanity of our Faith. September 8 was the Nativity of Our Blessed Mother, a feast that reminds us that while Mary had special privileges and a particular role in salvation history, she was still human like the rest of us. She came into the world through her parents, Saints Anne and Joachim. They welcomed their tiny infant girl into the world, and nurtured and raised her. This is the cycle of life repeated for thousands of years, and yet It is typical human nature to want to acknowledge and celebrate birthdays of loved ones. On Saturday we continue the Thirty Days of Mary with the Optional Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Mary, another very human feast. One way man is so different than animals is that we all have personal names. Our name is important to our identity. Jesus calls us each by name. Again, the Church acknowledges this basic component of life and lifts up the Most Blessed Mother for us to celebrate.
Sometimes we need our human needs met to make it easier to come closer to Christ. Of course we always need to strive to find the balance of the physical and spiritual. In today's world there is an overemphasis on the physical to the complete neglect of the spiritual world. But we do not need to swing the opposite direction and eschew matter and our humanity; we are not Manicheans or Gnostics. Christ and His Church provides the perfect balance of meeting our deeply rooted human needs. Like a loving parent, God sees and provides for whole beings. Sometimes we just need to step back and contemplate the gifts.
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