It Doesn’t Have to Be Extraordinary

Today’s first Mass reading from the Second Book of Kings introduces us to Naaman, an army commander of the King of Aram and a leper. The Israeli girl who is servant to Naaman’s wife reveals that if Naaman presents himself to “the prophet in Samaria,” he will be cured of his leprosy.

Naaman so presents himself and is given the message from the prophet Eilsha that he will be clean if he goes and washes seven times in the Jordan.   This advice angers Naaman, who had expected that the prophet “would surely come out and stand there to invoke the Lord his God and would move his hand over the spot, and thus cure the leprosy.” He is incensed by the advice to wash in a river that by his estimation is a quite ordinary one. What is so special about the water in Israel that makes it better than the waters of his homeland?

Naaman’s servants argue with him, “if the prophet had told you to do something quite extraordinary, would you not have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.” And so he washes in the Jordan seven times and is healed.

Are we all that different from Naaman? When it comes to God (and probably not just God), we like big. We like flashy. We like extraordinary. We like heroic acts and big deeds.

When it comes to experiencing God: Come to us in a big flash of lightening or a burning bush, we ask. Do something spectacular and dramatic to get our attention. And sometimes God does. But other times He comes to us in a tiny whisper.

When it comes to our life task: Give us some big deed to do. I think our expectation is that we will find our salvation in the equivalent of walking across the desert or climbing mountains or some other extraordinary or heroic acts. Shouldn’t there be some big, complicated, heroic act that will gain us the prize. Instead God says: Just love. Just be love. Love me. Love one another. Nothing big. Nothing flashy. Just love.

To paraphrase the servants of Naaman: If God had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not do it? All the more now, do as God asks.

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One thought on “It Doesn’t Have to Be Extraordinary

  1. Are we all that different from Naaman? When it comes to God (and probably not just God), we like big. We like flashy. We like extraordinary. We like heroic acts and big deeds.

    Often true, especially for Christianity at the dawn of the third century. Yesterday reminds me of a Sunday evening in March 203 AD. A day of reflection of the ‘eve’ of Perpetua, Felicitas, Saturus, Saturninus and Revocatus’ martyrdom the following day (Monday) during the games celebrating the birthday of Septimius Severus’ son Geta – yesterday was the eve of their last meal and their last Eucharistic celebration. For in her own words as a catechumen, Perpetua received the Sacrament of Baptism during her house arrest and before completing her initiate. For one to whom the Eucharist was so precious and to have partaken of the bread and wine (the Body and Blood of Christ), along with water, milk and honey only upon her Baptism and the eve before her martyrdom were both a blessed and unfortunate event. Perpetua was both taken and given – taken much too early from her faith community and given to us. . .

    The “extraordinary and heroic” acts of the early martyrs helped steel the resolve of many early Christians as they faced adversity and persecution; and were influential in continually leading others to the new faith.

    “When Saturus had his vision on the eve of his martyrdom, one of his central concerns was for peace and harmony within the Christian community. It turns out that he was quite right to be concerned. As presented in accounts of passions of martyrs, the practice of Christianity was clear and pure. When Perpetua said, ‘I am a Christian,’ and was prepared to die for that statement, it offered a vision of Christianity that was unencumbered by the many choices that faced Christians daily. As people tried to live Christian lives in more peaceful times, what frequently emerged was the human inclination to disagree.” (Perpetua’s Passion, Joyce E. Salisbury)

    In those early years of Christianity, during peaceful times between persecutions (203 to 250), the church expanded significantly in converts, wealth and hierarchy. However, mid second century movements like the ‘New Prophecy’ (known as Montanism after the fourth century), Donatism and other sects divided and continued to separate the early Christian community for centuries.

    Cyprian of Carthage, who converted to Christianity in 246, and was elected bishop in 248 faced crisis upon crisis during and after the persecution of Emperor Decius that began in 250. Birth rite, position, property and wealth further separated a persecuted community.

    “This persecution was designed to bring all citizens of the empire into conformity with a single rite; all citizens were supposed to perform a ritual sacrifice and prove it by obtaining a certificate testifying to the act. There were examples of heroic resistance among some Christians who would not perform the ritual sacrifice even though they were arrested and tortured. But these were by far in the minority.”

    “Other Christians avoided performing the ritual by bribing others to sacrifice and thus obtain the required certificate in their name. Many wealthy Christians were motivated not by fear of imprisonment but by fear of confiscation of property. The large-scale defection of Christians posed a much greater threat to the church than the persecutions that had taken a few lives.” (Perpetua’s Passion)

    How was Cyprian to deal with the outcry, of those who had remained steadfast in the faith, against those who had ‘lapsed’ in that time of trial and who then sought readmittance into the faith community? In Cyprian’s time, divisions among the faithful between the lax and the rigorous were apparent.

    During Diocletian’s persecution some 50 years later, the problem was even more complicated. Handing over Scriptures to be burned saved many from the punishments of persecution. Often the people in position to turn over sacred texts were bishops and priests; those more often martyred were the common people. “When the persecutions ended a few years later, could the same bishops who had destroyed Scriptures continue to lead their congregations? This dilemma recalled Saturus’s dream that placed martyrs over priests – the purists would have agreed with Saturus.” (Perpetua’s Passion)

    During the latter part of the third century until his death in 430, St. Augustine helped establish the ideal Christian community as one not of passionate prophecy and martyrdom but one of peaceful life living in harmony with the world – “Even salvation came not from the visible presence of the Holy Spirit in the Christian congregations and in the martyrdoms in the arena but through obedience to ecclesiastical hierarchy.” (Perpetua’s Passion)

    Thus codified church hierarchy and the practice of bishops ‘surrounding’ the reading of popular texts with homiletic commentary – letting not the text(s) speak directly to the community of the faithful, instead guiding the understanding of the words, subtly changing message and controlling its dissemination.

    “Just as Cyprian co-opted the power of confessors (those deemed inspired and filled with the Holy Spirit) by making them into priests, Augustine co-opted the power of Perpetua’s text by turning it into a subject of sermons.” (Perpetua’s Passion)

    Perpetua’s strength, courage and gender were assailed, social order restored by replacing Perpetua’s leadership of the group with the men, focusing on proper patriarchal social roles emphasizing the women’s place in the family, reducing Perpetua to a virtuous, passive participant in a drama that offered moral lessons for future generations. “In the bishop’s hands the accomplishment of the women and the dream of Perpetua (her transformation into a man before fighting the Egyptian) served to illustrate a lesson of feminine frailty and imperfection that was wholly absent from the original text.” (Perpetua’s Passion) In Augustine’s sermons, the constant juxtaposition of Perpetua with Eve served to remind that the virtuous women were anomalies in a world that ‘fell’ due to the actions of a woman – the “sex [that] was more frail.”

    The ‘Word’ was made more appropriate for the day – often made more appropriate to this day. . .

    In ancient times, Kings in palaces were protected from the outside – One of many wonderful tenants of Judaism (Mezuzah, I believe) venerates the sacredness of the family and the home as being protected by God from both the outside and within – and with some similarity, ancient Roman religious practices spoke of the Roman home that was in the care of many gods and goddesses, from Vesta of the hearth, Forculus to guard the door, Limentinus the threshold, to many, many more.

    No wonder Christianity and ‘The Word’ that sought (seeks) salvation of the individual soul was often received as radical and dangerous. Sacrifice required to attain salvation often came (comes) by sacrificing heritage, tradition, and including family. “Jesus said to them, ‘The healthy do not need a doctor; sick people do. I have not come to invite the self-righteous to a change of heart, but sinners.” (Luke 5:31–32 New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition).

    Though if often seems ‘all’ are called to place salvation of their individual soul before the well-being and preservation of family and community. . .

    During a Mid-Day Dialogue on Heaven and Hell moderated by Susan at St. Thomas a couple of years ago, Reggie (who may be a priest) spoke of the Heavenly celebration paradise would offer.

    I commented, “If that’s Heaven, then I don’t want to go.”

    To paraphrase his response, ‘If we are attached to earthly pleasures and desires, it’s no wonder.”

    I have often said many of our most precious desires require first death, an earthly death. Death to self is a litany often professed (intertwined with our humanity) and offers the fullness of the liturgical season each day.
    I believe The ‘Pendulum of Life’ I have spoken of on this blog offers many of Heaven’s Blessings conjoined to blessings only offered here on earth. The ‘permanence’ of ‘dying to self’ is modulated by our free will, enabling us to accept Jesus’ invitation to walk with Him each ‘new day’ – to be continually graced by the fullness of the liturgical season and comforted by Christ’s promise, ‘Be assured, out of My love for you, you will never disappoint Me.’

    If as some profess, body and soul will not be reunited until the Second Coming, then during our short journey on earth we are invited to experience both the unconditional love of God combined with the warmth of earthly love. At birth, all of Gods’ children are offered this Blessed gift, a vessel of life filled completely with God’s unconditional Love and filled completely with the Holy Spirit – jointly capable of expressing and sharing an unconditional earthly love. God’s Love is infinitely expansive able to ‘house’ the fullness of an expanding human love.

    While on earth, both Heavenly and earthly ‘universes’ are offered as our ‘Gift’ in parallel, are compatible and are experienced. To be awakened each new day to Jesus’ smile, his kind eyes and His voice, “Wake up you sleepy head(s). Come! There is work to be done.”

    My reply will not change, “If that’s Heaven, then I don’t want to go.”

    My pleadings and laments, “Lord it’s not fair, it’s not fair . . . . She (Perpetua) deserves to experience the earthly encounters we share, not I . . .”

    During his homily yesterday Deacon Bob, used a greeting from the indigenous people in the movie ‘Avatar’ that added richness to the parable of the blind man (Jn 9: 1–41), “I see you.”

    Upon her conversion, the simple gesture of Perpetua and her mother pulling back the ‘curtains of privacy’ of their litter, which soon led Perpetua herself to forego the entourage and security of her litter, her litter captain, her litter bearers and her servants to encounter her brothers and sisters in Christ (in the ‘Light’ – I see you) in the market place and public spaces of Carthage was (and remains) as important (if not more so) than her and her companions martyrdom in introducing others to Jesus message of love and inclusion, the invitation of inclusion into His Kingdom Come.

    Such un-extraordinary ‘extraordinary’ encounters such as Perpetua’s with her brothers and sisters in Carthage continue to this day and similar encounters are initiated by each of us – often in ways ‘unseen’ though seldom unnoticed by those we encounter, acknowledge and affirm. “I see you,” is often the most powerful ‘magnate for Christ’ we are called to be. . .

    In discernment and through the Holy Spirit was shared Perpetua’s response, “During the homily at Mass, the Third Sunday of Lent (March 23, 2014) you lamented, ‘Lord, if only you were here!’ and heard in reply, ‘You were there.’ In our hearts all of God’s children were their – though do ‘all’ acknowledge and see?”

    “Do you wish that I am to be recognized (seen), are you to be recognized (seen), or are all of His children called to be seen, called to be His presence in the world, called to be His heart, His hands and His voice?”

    “(Christine), In your heart (you know) we have journeyed together first as mother and son, as mother and daughter and now as sisters in Christ. We (Jesus and I) have been with you always. What do I deserve to experience that we have not experienced together, that we have not experienced together at the invitation of our Lord? Through whose eyes to you now wish to see, mine, your own, no longer our Lords? Your ‘Gift of Life’ I suggested you not claim as a young child, can still be claimed. The Gift of Life comes not with terms, you are able to claim it at a time of your choosing. The free will of our humanity gifted within our ‘Gift’ of earthly life ensures all will one day claim their ‘Gift of Life’ – the pendulum of life continues to swing forth and back each time we claim life and each time we offer it back to our Lord – forth and back it continues to swing. Each of us controls the frequency of our pendulum’s movements, where it rests is ours to know and experience. Is there now more you seek and desire? Remember. . .”

    A woman in Moscow respected by many has often commented, “You are blessed, and your mind seems not to edit your heart.” (“Ты благословил, ваш ум не кажется редактировать ваше сердце.”). When Father Antoniy was in Moscow before Thanksgiving this November, he shared a comment from a revered Orthodox priest, “If you (she, Christine) truly walk with the Lord, prayer is not required.”

    “Is it suddenly to be more about you, no longer our journey, less about our Lord? Is there more you suddenly now seek and desire?”

    When it comes to God (and probably not just God), we like big. We like flashy. We like extraordinary. We like heroic acts and big deeds.

    “Are you sure that is what you now seek, ‘. . . big, flashy, extraordinary, heroic acts and big deeds. For me, for you, for. . .’? ”

    “Is The Kingdom to Come intent upon our awaiting with closed hearts and blind eyes a ‘flashing extraordinary’ second coming? In His infinite patience, The Lord seeks not the dismantling of rich traditions of family, home and community, nor separations in and through beliefs, station in life or gender from ancient Judaic and Roman times to be replaced only by salvation theology of the individual soul.”

    “There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 New American Bible, St. Joseph Edition)

    “All are one in Christ Jesus.” All are called through their ‘Gift of Life’ to proclaim, “I see you.” Called to walk with the Lord not in prayer, not seeking, not filed with wants and desires – Called though our surrender of self, mooring our pendulum of life to the Lord’s unconditional Love, accepting even suffering and persecution when The ‘Word’ made more appropriate for the day continues to exclude and separate our brothers and sisters in God, one from the other.

    “As people tried to live Christian lives in more peaceful times, what frequently emerged was the human inclination to disagree.”

    When we proclaim, “I see you.” Whom do we see? Whom do we love? Do we see and love all of His children?

    Perpetua, God Bless you and your companions, on this your Feast Day. And thank you for lovingly taking a young child’s hand that morning in May, comforting me with your words, “It’s alright, don’t be afraid.” And continuing to hold my hand to this day.

    I love you so. . .

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