WEEK 13 04 – Year I
Living in the Presence of the Lord –
Optional Memorial: St. Elizabeth of Portugal
(Gen 22:1-19; Ps 116; Mt 9:1-8)
Today’s psalm response extends to us an important invitation to, “Walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living.”
That raises the question – how does one do that? The answer, arising out of the readings, is simple. To walk in the presence of the Lord involves faith, forgiveness, healing and sacrificial love.
Faith figures strongly in both readings as a first way of walking in the presence of the Lord. In the gospel we see Jesus impressed by the faith of the community more so than that of the paralytic himself. To be surrounded by a faith community is such a blessing, one that can even facilitate healing.
In the first reading, it is once again the astounding total faith and trust of Abraham to be willing to sacrifice his only son that is before our eyes. Of course, that whole episode is prophetic: the wood of the altar laid upon Isaac’s shoulders poignantly prefigures Jesus carrying the wood of the cross, while the lamb caught in the bush invites us to place our faith in Jesus as the true Lamb of God whose sacrifice saved the world.
Forgiveness is a second way to walk in the presence of the Lord. The fact that the first action of Jesus, when asked to heal a man who is physically ill, was to extend forgiveness to him underlines the need that we all have for forgiveness of our sins and wrongdoing. “Forgiveness is a powerful thing,” is the message that Jonathan, who was forgiven by the mother of a youth that he murdered at a party, shares with the groups he addresses now as a motivational speaker. As Pope Francis often points out, God never tires of forgiving – we are the ones who fail to repent and come to receive that forgiveness, especially through the sacrament of reconciliation.
Healing is a third way to walk in the presence of the Lord. To show that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins, Jesus heals the paralytic. We are all also in need of healing for our sinfulness – that which makes us sin. Not to ask for healing is to run the danger of simply repeating the hurtful action that flows out of our painful emotions, negative attitudes, defects of character, and even our addictions that beg for healing.
This brings to mind the two-fold mission of Jesus as the Messiah – to redeem and sanctify, to forgive and to heal. Cary Landry had it right in his hymn Lay Your Hands, when he sings, “Let them bring your forgiveness and healing.” The two go together, like a pair of hands.
Finally, a fourth way of walking in the presence of the Lord is sacrificial love. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his only son out of love for God. Jesus himself taught there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for others. And God our Father modeled that teaching by allowing the sacrifice of his only Son to demonstrate the depth of the Father’s love for our wounded humanity. Certainly, our willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of others and to do what we can to serve them is critical to walking in the presence of the Lord.
The 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous is tailor made to live out these passages of scripture for those who work them. Steps 2, 3 and 11 are all about faith in God and a prayerful relationship with God. Steps 4 & 5 are all about receiving forgiveness from God, our selves and one other person. Steps 8 & 9 are all about receiving forgiveness from those we have hurt and hopefully also experience reconciliation with them. Steps 6 & 7 are all about healing – praying that God will take away our character defects and painful emotions by transforming them into forgiveness and good grieving. Finally,
Step 12 is all about sacrificial love – giving our selves away in service to others.
The Church today honors someone who lived these teachings in an exemplary manner – St. Elizabeth of Portugal. Born in 1271, she was Daughter of King Peter III of Aragon and named after her great-aunt, St Elizabeth of Hungary. Her birth prompted a reconciliation between her father and grandfather. Thus began her reputation for bringing peace; she came to be called “the Peacemaker.” She was married at age 12 to King Denis of Portugal, by whom she had two children. She set up hospitals, orphanages and other institutions, patiently endured her husband’s infidelities, forgiving him and also providing for the education of his illegitimate children. She also acted as a peacemaker in the quarrelsome and complicated politics of the time. When her son twice led rebellions against his father, she helped them reconcile.
On her husband’s death in 1325 she retired from public life, joined the Poor Clares, giving up her rank and wealth for a life of simplicity, devoting herself to prayer and the service of the poor. Throughout her life she was faithful and regular in prayer and daily prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, way ahead of her time.
In 1336 she successfully settled a conflict between her son, by now King Alfonso IV of Portugal, and her grandson, King Alfonso XI of Castile. Elizabeth followed the Portuguese army on the field in an effort to bring about that peace, an effort that led to illness and her death on July 4th, 1336.
She is a model of faith, forgiveness, charity, genuine caring for the poor, peacemaking, and prayer. Canonized in 1625, Elizabeth is a patron of Catholic charities.
The Eucharist brings together all these ways of walking in the presence of the Lord: it is an act of faith; a source of forgiveness; an experience of healing, and a commitment to live it out through selfless Christian service.
May our celebration today empower us to walk in the presence of the Lord through faith, forgiveness, healing and sacrificial love, as did St. Elizabeth of Portugal.