Tuesday in the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Jer 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22; Mt 15:1-2, 10-14 ]

Without any doubt, Jesus goes far beyond the scribes and Pharisees in his love of real cleanliness, both interior and exterior. The Phariesees taught that demons rested upon our hands. By eating with unwashed hands, demons gained entrance through our mouths to our hearts.

Jesus knows that demons plant themselves all around us, not only on our hands and feet, but on our heads and shoulders as well. They stand in front of us to block our way to God, and behind us to push us into doing evil. The scribes and Parisees, in their desire for holiness, tried to be cleansed from demons and sin in the only way they knew how, by exterior washings, the sign of a great gift to come.

To fulfill this universal desire for holiness by washing oneself clean, Jesus came and gave us the sacramental waters of Baptism so that our hearts could really be cleansed interiorly, by the work of the Holy Spirit. Then, when God's Spirit is planted in our hearts, we are truly holy, made ready to receive Jesus in our mouths and our hearts.

Tuesday in the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

[Scripture Readings: Num 12:1-13; Mt 14:22-36]

Hearing this gospel story, we usually picture the events unfolding over the course of a night of bad weather; the sort of stormy weather nature produces from time to time. In my imagination I can see played out a very different story. I can imagine Jesus walking by the sea on a clear starry night. The scene is very tranquil; there is a light breeze blowing; the lake, under cover of darkness, is perfectly still. There is hardly a sound until the Son of God sets his foot on the surface of the water, and then the other, and commences to walk across the surface of the lake, and then the scene explodes. The lake suddenly erupts; its whole body convulsed; immense waves rise up and are thrashed by violent winds in what appears to be a natural storm.

I imagine it being indeed a “natural” storm: the very nature of the lake itself rising up in protest, as if to say to Jesus: “Pardon me sir. I do not permit myself to be walked upon by men. That is not my nature. I have power to draw men down, to engulf men, to swallow men. By my power, I have delivered men like you into darkness and death. It is not my nature to lie still while a man walks on me.” Were those high waves caused by storm winds, or did the storm rise up out of the lake itself whose nature was provoked by Jesus' demonstration of his lordship over all creation. Could something so dark be hidden in the depths of that peaceful lake? Looking at the sea lying in its basin, it appears calm. But, we know, that if an earth quake occur at the bottom of the ocean, an immense wave two hundred feet high can suddenly rise up, and on a beautiful sunlit day, kill thousands of people in the space of a few minutes. There is, evidently, in the nature of water, something wholly natural, and yet unredeemed, something which in light of who God is, and God's loving providence for mankind is profoundly un-natural, something evil, maybe permitted but not willed by God, what moralists call “ontic evil”; evil that can blindly, cruelly, and with perfect indifference cause injury and death to God's beloved children.

Is America today something like a lake? Is the heart of America something like water? On most days we appear to be a magnanimous and benevolent people. Like the sea, we look serene so long as we are let be to behave in a manner expressive of what seems natural to us. We would have our nature expressed in our choices, and will thank you for providing us a certain scope to do that. But I wonder if America's heart, again like water, is apt to rise up in rebellion the moment the Son of God should so much as place his foot upon that water and presume to conduct himself as Lord of heaven and earth. Might the violence of the controversies engaging the church and contemporary culture today be derived, not from any particular set of external circumstances, but from our nature as a people. And if we who are publicly identified as Roman Catholics, feel afraid by the force of the movements of popular opinion that rise up and bear down on us like great waves on a stormy sea, do we need to be? Do we need to be afraid?