Hands & Feet

Homily for February 4, 2018 (5th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Ps. 147; 1 Cor. 9:16-19, 22-23; Mk. 1:29-39

In a recent address to oblates of the Benedictine Order, Sr. Joan Chittister recounted the story of a Buddhist monk, Tetsugen.  He devoted his life to printing in Japanese wood blocks 7000 copies of the Buddha’s sutras, which at that time were only available in Chinese.  It was a huge project.

Tetsugen went all over Japan for years raising funds for this effort.  Then a large river overflowed; and he gave away all he had raised to help the homeless.  Again he traveled the country, begging for support for his project. Japan was then devastated by an epidemic.  Tetsugen gave away what he had raised to aid the suffering.  Once again, the monk went out to raise money for his translation and printing project.  This time it took 20 years!  But he succeeded.

Today the first printed Japanese edition of the Buddha’s sutras can be found in a monastery in Kyoto.  When children are shown this magnificent work, they’re told that Tetsugen created three editions of the sutras.  But only one of them is printed and on display.  The other two—feeding the hungry and aiding the sick and suffering—are not on display.  Yet they are remembered even more.

The biblical readings for today’s Mass call us to proclaim the gospel with our hands and feet at least as much as with our words.  In this era of growing skepticism and cynicism, when even the most basic facts are up for debate and trust in our public institutions, including the Church, is dangerously low, action is what counts.  Jesus gives us the example:  while preaching the kingdom of God he also demonstrates its imminence by tirelessly healing and driving out demons.  He also roots who he is and what he does in prayer.

While few will suffer the string of catastrophes that threatened to overwhelm Job, the experience of human suffering is universal.  His feelings of loss and despair are something almost all of us can relate to at some time in our lives.

Reflecting on Job’s laments in our first reading, it wouldn’t be hard to conclude that he was suffering from depression, a disease that afflicts millions of people every year in our country.  Unfortunately, there remains a stigma about talking about this and other forms of mental illness; and as a result, many people and their families continue to suffer needlessly. There is help for those who need it.

God is such a help.  Our Responsorial Psalm reminds us that God heals those who are brokenhearted; and that healing can often take place through the listening ears and counsel of caring and skilled professionals.

In ten days we will celebrate Ash Wednesday.  As we prepare for Lent and to be renewed through fasting, prayer and works of mercy, may we also strengthen our commitment to be better stewards of the gospel and to more effectively proclaim the good news with our hands and feet as well as our mouths.  +