Acting in Faith – a Lenten Practice

Today’s Gospel reading from Mark 2:1-12 is the breakthrough story of the paralytic, whose friends, seeing that the immense popularity of Jesus prevents access to Him, open up the roof of the house where Jesus is staying and lower the child to Him. Upon seeing this extraordinary act Jesus is moved to heal the paralytic. This true story teaches me that faith alone is not enough to produce the fruit of a perfected soul; it takes action, which is works.

If the body is like the soul, then being paralyzed and being healed are respectively like injury and health to the soul. Our sins paralyze us to the point that all we can do is see our sins, lament them and dwell on them even after we are forgiven through the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.

In the first reading for today from Isaiah 43:18-25 God tells us that he has forgiven our sins and remembers them no more. At first reading this is a conundrum because, if he truly doesn’t remember or sins, if they are blotted out with absolutely no trace, then how is it that God knows of them to be able to say that they are wiped out? In short, why does he bring it up at all? At second consideration and closer inspection, we see that it is the Israelites who burden God with their sins. It is the people who are bringing up the issue, in essence saying no to the grace of God. God is just responding to their laments and even their chronic failures. Their sins were indeed forgiven but their actions showed no conviction.

The second reading (2 Corinthians 1:18-22) is a departure from the constant worrying over sins toward inconsistency in faith. In the next reading, Saint Paul is defending his honor, not for his own sake but for the Corinthians’ sake, saying that his word declaring Jesus to be the Son of God and the messiah is not wavering because he (Paul) cannot be with them. Paul reminds those at Corinth that in baptism they have received something greater then him self; namely they have received the very Spirit of God. Like God the father in the first reading, Paul reassures the Corinthians that even though he cannot be with them as originally intended it does not mean that he has said no one minute and yes the next. It does not mean that they should have reason to doubt the message of faith in Christ, since the Holy Spirit, who is the first deposit of faith, dwells in them. The Corinthians are like the Israelites in having doubt and accusing Paul of causing it by not returning to them as he had initially planned.

The third reading is perfected faith; it is faith in action. The four men who carry the paralytic are so convinced that Jesus will heal their friend/relative that they remove every obstacle to get to Jesus. Often times our sins paralyze us from accepting grace. We think so low of ourselves because of what we have done that we imagine ourselves unredeemable and unworthy. This is wrong thinking primarily because, like accusing Paul of inconsistency, it fails to recognize the perfect and unwavering mercy of Jesus Christ. Yet, once we have immobilized our faith, we have no one to help us reach Christ except those connected visibly in the Church on earth and invisibly by communion with those in Purgatory and the saints and angels in Heaven. So if we are reconciled to Christ – the head – and to the Church, which is the body, then we have the austere responsibility to assist those who by their actions have become paralyzed.

How then can we, like the four men in the Gospel reading, lower others through the roof to Christ? I think it takes the three Lenten practices: Prayer, fasting and alms giving (sacrifice). Prayer first, because it prepares us for right action, it puts others before ourselves, and it brings us closer to God who is the source of all goodness. Fasting because in it we learn to deem all things superfluous; man does not live by bread alone but by every word of God. Alms, which I do not limit to giving money but other commodities like time and effort, skills and labor without pay, and giving up pleasures and conveniences, because in making such sacrifices, in giving of ourselves we show faith and it is those acts of faith that move Christ to heal.

Mark 2:1-12
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
1And again he entered into Capharnaum after some days.
2And it was heard that he was in the house, and many came together, so that there was no room; no, not even at the door; and he spoke to them the word.
3And they came to him, bringing one sick of the palsy, who was carried by four.
4And when they could not offer him unto him for the multitude, they uncovered the roof where he was; and opening it, they let down the bed wherein the man sick of the palsy lay.
5And when Jesus had seen their faith, he saith to the sick of the palsy: Son, thy sins are forgiven thee.
6And there were some of the scribes sitting there, and thinking in their hearts:
7Why doth this man speak thus? he blasphemeth. Who can forgive sins, but God only?
8Which Jesus presently knowing in his spirit, that they so thought within themselves, saith to them: Why think you these things in your hearts?
9Which is easier, to say to the sick of the palsy: Thy sins are forgiven thee; or to say: Arise, take up thy bed, and walk?
10But that you may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (he saith to the sick of the palsy,)
11I say to thee: Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house.
12And immediately he arose; and taking up his bed, went his way in the sight of all; so that all wondered and glorified God, saying: We never saw the like.
Isaiah 43:18-25
View in: NAB Vulg Hebrew
18Remember not former things, and look not on things of old.
19Behold I do new things, and now they shall spring forth, verily you shall know them: I will make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.
20The beast of the field shall glorify me, the dragons and the ostriches: because I have given waters in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, to my chosen.
21This people have I formed for myself, they shall shew forth my praise.
22But thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob, neither hast thou laboured about me, O Israel.
23Thou hast not offered me the ram of thy holocaust, nor hast thou glorified me with thy victims: I have not caused thee to serve with oblations, nor wearied thee with incense.
24Thou hast bought me no sweet cane with money, neither hast thou filled me with the fat of thy victims. But thou hast made me to serve with thy sins, thou hast wearied me with thy iniquities.
25I am, I am he that blot out thy iniquities for my own sake, and I will not remember thy sins.
2 Corinthians 1:18-22
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
18But God is faithful, for our preaching which was to you, was not, It is, and It is not.
19For the Son of God, Jesus Christ who was preached among you by us, by me, and Sylvanus, and Timothy, was not, It is and It is not, but, It is, was in him.
20For all the promises of God are in him, It is; therefore also by him, amen to God, unto our glory.
21Now he that confirmeth us with you in Christ, and that hath anointed us, is God:
22Who also hath sealed us, and given the pledge of the Spirit in our hearts.

One Response to “Acting in Faith – a Lenten Practice”

  1. Cheryl Leingang says:

    Enjoyed this reflection, Tim. I am learning so much from you and our whole group. I’m smiling as I sit here realizing some modern phrases probably stemmed from this story…”Brought down the house” or “Going through the roof…” I know we need the perseverance that only comes from the Holy Spirit as we pray to lead our friends and family to Christ. Sometimes I feel like a little bird pecking away at that roof… May Our Lord whisper in our ear today how we can make a “breakthrough” and, in the meantime, be nourished and renewed by His Presence.

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