Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily February 19, 2012, Understanding Lent, Fr. Frank Herrmann, SJ

The Paralyzed Man Lowered through the Roof

(Mk. 2: 1-12)

Last Sunday before Lent


St. Mary of the Angels, Feb. 2012



We are a few days away from the beginning of Lent. What is the meaning of this season of forty days?  


1. We may look to the Bible where exactly "forty days" has a special meaning: forty days was just the length of time that the Holy Spirit sent, after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, sent Jesus into the desert, allowing the Holy Spirit to take hold of him in a new and deeper way. That is a good picture of the meaning of Lent: a time to let the Spirit take hold of you and the circumstances of your life, in a fresh and deeper way; to let the Spirit grip you, as it did Jesus, and whisper again to you in the Spirit's "still, small voice" how best to live out the great gift you have of being alive.


For Jesus, the forty days was a time of preparation for understanding what direction God was calling him. Those days made all the difference. They helped him understand who he was and what God was doing in his life and what God was asking him to do for others. When the forty days were over, the Scripture tells us, Jesus came back grasped "in the power of the Spirit." Immediately, he went into the synagogue at Capernaum and announced: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me."


In our forty days of Lent, the Church invites us to let happen to us what happened to Jesus: listen in prayer to what God is saying to you about your life, let the Spirit grip you and send you forth to others with a renewed faith and a greater joy.


2. We have another good way of understanding what Lent is about, if we look to our gospel this morning. Jesus was at home in Capernaum. The crowds who wanted to see him were so large that they blocked the way for a paralyzed man who was in need. The man was obviously blessed with wonderful friends. They ingeniously climbed to the top of the house and diligently removed the plaster and timbers of the roof. ["Who is going to pay for the roof?"--An insurance agent asked himself when hearing this gospel story.] They lowered their friend down. Others must have received him so he could be placed on the floor by Jesus. Jesus sees immediately that the man needs to be spiritually and physically free. And he sets him free from the paralysis of sin and of sickness. Forgiveness, the story seems to say, is the power to walk. Three times the gospel repeats the phrase "stand up, take up your mat, and walk." That is the will of the Lord for us: to set us free to live fully. "The glory of God is a person fully alive."


By putting this gospel just before Lent, the church is telling us what the season means: this is a time to place ourselves before Jesus; to receive from him the power to stand up in life and walk away from whatever keeps us from living fully in the Spirit. Through Jesus, the Spirit gripped this helpless man, set him free, and sent him to reengage in life with a new sense that he owed everything to God's loving kindness which never fails. That is the path Lent invites us to take. Or, rather, that is the path Jesus invites us to take.


The gospel may be telling us something else about Lent. We see in the passage not just the helpless man on the mat needing the Lord's healing and forgiveness. We may see also that the man was blessed with wonderful friends. They loved him. They wanted him to be whole. They would allow no obstacles to stand in their way. If the crowd blocked them, they would take their friend to the roof. If the roof blocked them, they would dismantle it. They would do whatever was needed to bring their friend to the Lord so that he might be made whole in body and soul. How gifted the paralyzed man was to have such friends! Even if their efforts had failed, we feel the man would have rejoiced to know that he was so loved.


That is part of the meaning of Lent, also. Those friends are a symbol of the church, a reminder of what we, as followers of Christ, are called to do for those in need. We must not forget the helpless and needy; obstacles should not defeat us. We should always present them to Christ in prayer and through our actions.


3. The third way to understand Lent is just to remember the meaning of the word: it has to do with "lengthen." This is the time when days grow longer, when we receive more and more light. Lent is simply the name for Spring, a time that naturally brings to mind the springing up of life. And who could expect such a beautiful event when all we have grown used to is the leafless, brown barrenness of winter, where everything has seemed trapped within itself, dreary, and dead. But the Lord says, "See, I am doing something new!"


Suddenly a different kind of breeze comes out of nowhere. The breeze is totally unexpected, a breakthrough for life out of the hard, unforgiving crust of the earth. The soil breaks open, like the Capernaum roof removed. What was paralyzed helplessly by Winter's frost can now burst forth in a time of release, freedom, and new life; a time that leads to resurrection.


In the eyes of faith, Spring is a beautiful sign of what Christ wishes to do with our hearts, in our lives, and in our world. ("Let him Easter in us. Let him be the dayspring to the dimness in us. Let him be our crimson-cresseted East.)


So, in this time of Lent, let us make time for the Spirit, as Jesus did in his forty days in the desert; let yourself come face-to-face with Jesus, as the paralytic man did, to present your needs to the Lord and to receive his powerful touch; let the Lord, whom we worship this morning, be for you the Spring daylight that drives away whatever may dim your heart, as He prepares us all to celebrate his Resurrection.


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