14 February 2015

Turning the Ordinary into the Extra-Ordinary

5th Week OT (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church,, NOLA

Those of us who have grown up in the Protestant South have heard all our lives that Catholics do not revere the Bible. Catholics prefer performing strange rituals, marching around in elaborate costumes, lighting candles and incense, and muttering to statues in a dead language. Even today, my Protestant friends distinguish between “Catholics” and “Bible Christians,” using the two words as if there is no connection between the two, no overlap. What my friends fail to grasp is the concept of the sacramental imagination. In an interview, George Weigel, the biographer of Pope John Paul II, offers a description of the Catholic way of seeing God's creation. He says, “. . .the world has been configured by God in a 'sacramental' way, i.e., the things of this 'real world' can disclose the really real world of God's love and grace. The Catholic 'sacramental imagination' sees in the stuff of this world hints and traces of the creator, redeemer, and sanctifier of the world. . .” St. Mark's story of the feeding of the 4,000 gives us a chance to hear Jesus himself teaching us how to view his Father's creation sacramentally. A few loaves of bread and a few fish, blessed by Christ, feed a huge crowd. The unexpected generosity of God miraculously feeds the bodies of those who follow His son. Those fed have witnessed the love and grace of God in an otherwise ordinary, everyday activity: eating dinner. The Catholic sacramental imagination turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, revealing God's presence in His creation.

We have no reason to believe that the miracle described by Mark didn't happen exactly like Mark describes it—four thousand people are fed with just a few loaves of bread and a few fish. We can read the story as a story about the everyday lives of Christians struggling to faithfully live out their baptismal vows. Jesus sees the trials of those who follow after him. He hears all about how we are alienated from God by sin; how we suffer from temptation, disease, persecution; how we hunger and thirst for righteousness and truth; how we strain to be merciful, loving, true to all his commands. Watching us day to day, Jesus says, “My heart is moved with pity for [you]. . .If I send [you] away hungry to [your] homes, [you] will collapse on the way. . .” We've come a long way out of the world to join the crowds that follow Jesus. He's never pretended that following him is easy. He's never lied to us and told us that being faithful is as simple as performing a few rituals or lighting a few candles or muttering prayers before a statue. We have chosen a very difficult way of living in God's creation. But He will not leave us tired and hungry. He takes the bread, blesses it, and gives it to us to eat. 

One piece of bread becomes two. And two becomes four. Four, eight. And because this bread is also his body—both human and divine—we are fed physically and spiritually. The things of the “real world” (bread, wine, oil, water) can reveal the really real world of God's love and grace. The sacramental imagination is a biblical way of living in God's world—seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling His presence, and gaining strength in body and spirit as we notice Him and give Him thanks for being with us always. 

The Psalmist sings, “In every age, Lord, you have been our refuge.” Hungry, thirsty, blind, deaf, afraid—we take refuge in God and find all that we need to succeed in His Christ.

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1 comment:

  1. Wow. You haven't done that to me in a while! Second paragraph just did me in - I'm all verklempt.