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Friday, 02 February 2018 19:01

Where have I touched the face of God?

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Br Julian McDonald cfcFifth Sunday in Ordinary Time


This Sunday's Gospel invites us to pause and reflect on the opportunities of touching the face of God that come to us every day of our lives, writes Christian Brother Julian McDonald. "In what experiences in the last twenty-four hours of my life was I aware of touching the face of God? How might the quality of my life change if I were to take time at the end of each day to reflect on where I have encountered the divine?"

That evening, after sunset, they brought to him all who were sick and those who were possessed by devils. The whole town came crowding round the door, and he healed many who were suffering from diseases of one kind or another; and he cast out many devils, but he would not allow them to speak, because they knew who he was. Mark 1, 29-39

We are now about to move into the last two weeks of Ordinary Time before the season of Lent begins. Over the years we may have come to conclude that Ordinary Time in the Church’s calendar is associated with the uninteresting and the boring or is something to fill up the spaces between the great celebrations of Christmas and Easter and Pentecost and Christ the King.
On the contrary, Ordinary Time is about heightening our awareness to God’s presence in the very ordinary events of everyday life. The ordinary is a revelation of the divine, and it’s through practices such as mindfulness that we grow in our attentiveness to the divine, present in ourselves, one another and in all that happens in the world around us.

Today’s gospel is a telling reminder to us of how Jesus was able to see the presence of God in every person and situation he encountered, of how he was able to reflect the presence of God to others as he engaged with them in the everyday events of life, and of how he touched the face of God in everything he experienced. Untold numbers of people down through history have looked at the person of Jesus and have learned from him how to recognise the presence of God in the ordinary and extraordinary events of their own lives.

John Gillespie Magee Jr was born in China in 1922. He was the first of four boys born to two Anglican missionaries working in China. Most of John’s schooling was completed in Britain. However, in 1939 he visited the United States and was prevented by the outbreak of World War II from returning to the Rugby School in England to complete the last year of his secondary education. He completed the final year of his schooling in Connecticut and was awarded a scholarship to Yale University. Instead of taking up the scholarship, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, and, after qualifying as a pilot, was drafted to a Fighter Squadron in Wales, where he learned to fly spitfires. In training he had flown a spitfire to an altitude of 33,000 feet, and that was the inspiration of his poem High Flight, reproduced below. He saw combat action in November-December 1941, but was killed in a mid-air collision with another plane during training in December 1941. High Flight is the official poem of both the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force, was taken by astronaut Michael Collins into space on the Gemini 10 flight, and quoted by President Reagan in his address to the nation in January1986, following the Challenger disaster.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung

High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air...

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace

Where never lark or even eagle flew --

And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Both today’s gospel and the poem High Flight are invitations to us to pause and reflect on the opportunities of touching the face of God that come to us every day of our lives, even though those days may be characterized by the same frenetic pace that Mark saw in Jesus’ life and which he describes in the first chapter of his Gospel. In what experiences in the last twenty-four hours of my life was I aware of touching the face of God? How might the quality of my life change if I were to take time at the end of each day to reflect on where I have encountered the divine?

There is a kind of urgency about the gospel readings of today and the last two Sundays. They are all from chapter 1 of Mark’s Gospel and describe the busyness of Jesus’ life as he launched into his ministry. However, Mark makes the point that Jesus would not have been able to get a grasp on what his role in life was all about without taking time for reflection and prayer: “Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place and prayed” (Mark 1, 35). Clear evidence of the depth of his reflection can be seen in his plea to those whom he healed and freed from the grasp of evil. He told them to keep quiet about what he had done for them. He was not looking for fans and popularity. Rather, he was intent on encouraging others to follow him in spirit, by living true to the message and values he proclaimed.

The incident in today’s gospel about the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law has sometimes prompted some to ask why the men sat back and let the woman who just been cured get a meal for them. I suggest that Mark’s message is quite different. While our modern translation says: “the fever left her and she waited on them”, the original Greek word was diekonei, meaning “served” rather than “waited on”. Mark is making the point that once someone is touched by Jesus, he or she automatically chooses to serve others. Jesus did what true compassion required. He did not bother about being ritually contaminated by touching a woman who was ill. Nor did he worry about catching her sickness. If we allow ourselves to be touched by Jesus, we too will put self second and do what we can to reach out in service to others in need. Jesus’ final act of ministry was one of service – he washed the feet of his disciples. He invites us to do likewise.