[This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times 23 Oct 1008]
The crowds were almost stifling Jesus as he went. There was a woman suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, whom no one had been able to cure. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak; and the hemorrhage stopped at that instant. Jesus said, "Who touched me?"
I descended from the heavenly peace of my study to find a gaggle of giggling teens in my kitchen. "Open your hands, Mom!" invited Chris. "Why?" I am (with good reason) suspicious. "I promise you'll like it." At least he hasn't asked me to close my eyes, or I would have been really worried.
I hesitantly held out my hands, ready to snatch them back if the surprise was not to my taste. A spoonful of chocolate chip cookie dough plopped onto my palms. Chris was right, I liked it. My kitchen turned out to be as full of grace as it was of teenagers.
Chris' invitation and my tentative response to it echoed an experience of a few days earlier. Facing surgery, I had asked to receive the anointing of the sick. When the priest invited me to open my hands, for an instant, I had much the same reaction as I had in the kitchen. I wanted to pull back my hands and call the whole thing off. I was unsure of what would happen; perhaps I should not have bothered God with this?
I took courage from the woman in this scene from Luke's Gospel. She, too, had come seeking healing in the midst of chaos. I wonder if she thought it too small a matter actually to stop Jesus. She was not blind, nor paralyzed, not possessed of demons; she was tired and ill and frustrated. So as not to be a bother, she merely reached out to touch His robe. Christ responded to her, sought her out, in fact. He need not have bothered, she was already well. He was not satisfied to know that healing had happened, but wanted to meet the person healed.
Eyes open, I gathered my courage to face God and acknowledge my need. I opened my hands to be anointed with oil, to have them filled with grace, for strength, endurance and patience - and I hoped - healing.
Grace is found in odd corners, and it's not always easy to accept. In his essay "The Experience of Grace" Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner acknowledges that grace can indeed bless everyday moments, such as teenagers and fresh chocolate chip cookies. But he goes on to point out that when we surrender control over our very lives, then we can begin to experience grace not as moments, but as life within the grace of God. Experiences of grace are not the "seasoning and decorations of life," but the cup of life itself.
In the end, the grace of the sacrament for me was to learn to find, as Rahner advises, the fullness in the emptiness, ascent in the fall, wholeness in my brokenness. If I had not "bothered" God, not sought the graces offered, my physical recovery might not have been any more difficult, but the journey would have had little meaning. Like the woman in Luke's Gospel, I learned that it is not about being healed, but about the encounter with Christ, and the conformity to His passion, death and resurrection that that brings.
Rahner closes by conceding that letting God work in us in this way is not easy. My desire to close my hands and flee is not surprising. "We will always be tempted again to take fright and flee back into what is familiar and near to us: in fact we will often have to and will often be allowed to do this. But we should gradually try to get ourselves used to the taste of the pure wine of the Spirit... We should do this at least to the extent of not refusing the chalice when His directing providence offers it to us." Open your hands.
Guard your family, Lord, with constant loving care, for in your divine grace we place our only hope. We make our prayer through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Concluding prayer from Morning Prayer of the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time