Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Conversion is not a smooth, easy-going process - Palaces and pyramids are reared by laying one brick, or block, at a time.

“Neither fear nor self-interest can convert the soul. They may change the appearance, perhaps even the conduct, but never the object of supreme desire... Fear is the motive which constrains the slave; greed binds the selfish man, by which he is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed (James 1:14). But neither fear nor self-interest is undefiled, nor can they convert the soul. Only charity can convert the soul, freeing it from unworthy motives.” – St. Bernard of Clairvaux

(Gospel Text: Jn 5:1-16)
There was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep Gate
a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes.
In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there
and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him,
“Do you want to be well?”
The sick man answered him,
“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool
when the water is stirred up;
while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”
Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

Now that day was a Sabbath.
So the Jews said to the man who was cured,
“It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat.” 
He answered them, “The man who made me well told me,
‘Take up your mat and walk.’“
They asked him,
“Who is the man who told you, ‘Take it up and walk’?”
The man who was healed did not know who it was,
for Jesus had slipped away, since there was a crowd there.
After this Jesus found him in the temple area and said to him,
“Look, you are well; do not sin any more,
so that nothing worse may happen to you.”
The man went and told the Jews
that Jesus was the one who had made him well.
Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus
because he did this on a Sabbath.

Today in the Gospel, Jesus compassionately asks a man, crippled and sick for 38 years, "Do you want to be well?" At first glance, it's a strange question. It's like asking a starving man if he'd like a sandwich or a man in prison if he'd like a pardon.

The answer is totally obvious: of course the man would want to be made well. He was, after all, at the Pool of Bethesda to participate in a superstitious race with the blind, lame, and crippled to be the first one into the pool, believing that that was the path to be restored to wellness. 

But Jesus asked the question at a deeper level, trying to solicit the man's deep desires, so that the man's will would be involved in the cure. The man didn't respond the way we would have thought he would, with an emphatic "Yes, I obviously would like to be made well!" Instead, he acknowledged that he needed help to be cured - he needed someone to place him into the water to become "whole" again.

The question for us is: Is this the story of our life? Has our life been one of continual growth in faith, in our friendship with Christ, in loving worship of God and service of others? If we're honest, many of us will admit that many times, rather than walk inch by inch with the Lord into deeper communion, we've taken various detours and gone off into the desert on our own to search out “an oasis”, real or imaginary, that at least temporarily became more important to us than our relationship with the Lord.

Jesus asks us personally right now, "Do you want to be made well?"
The reality of that question is this cure through growth in faith doesn't happen to us by osmosis. It doesn't occur by just "wishing" to grow in faith. We have to make resolutions and then act to correspond to God's grace. Jesus offers us the “living water” but we need to walk in it, to live in it, to swim in it.

That means, we regularly partake of what the early saints called the Sacrament of "second baptism," which is the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, in which Christ bathes us anew in “the living blood and water flowing from his side” and restores our soul to its baptismal beauty and dignity.

This is the path toward our total cure. There is no other.

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