11th February. Tuesday, Week Five
Our Lady of Lourdes.
Our Lady of Lourdes is a title under which the Blessed Virgin Mary is honoured, because of a series of visions experienced at Lourdes by Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old peasant girl, in 1858. These visions were influential in the adoption of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception among Catholics worldwide. Many have experienced the Marian sanctuary at Lourdes in France as a very special sacred space, where the nearness of the supernatural can be felt, and which flows into many works of mercy towards the sick.
1st Reading: 1 Kings 8:22-23, 27-30
(Solomon concludes the temple dedication ceremony with a prayer of faith, confidence and humility.)
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart.
“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.
Gospel: Mark 7:1-13
(The crime of nullifying the plain sense of God’s word by recourse to human traditions and practices.)
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honours me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’ /You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” Then he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that if anyone tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is Corban’ (that is, an offering to God) – then you no longer permit doing anything for a father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.”
Creating Sacred Space
The Book of Genesis proclaims the sacredness of the created world. In concluding the work of creation, God saw.. and “found it very good.” From this background we can examine today’s texts from First Kings, and from St Mark, the better to understand why Solomon and Jesus spoke as they did. Solomon ponders, “Can it be that God indeed dwells among us on earth? If the heavens and the highest heavens cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built?” And Jesus excoriates the lawyers for “making a fine art of setting aside God’s commandment [that the world, as blessed by God, is to be respected and appreciated] just for the sake of keeping your traditions.”
Solomon’s prayer reminds us that God’s normal temple is the universe, and for that reason the king asks how a mere human construction can contain God. Jesus argues that the produce of the world, its fruits and vegetables, are all clean because they have been created and blessed by God. Nonetheless, Solomon did build the temple; and Jesus did sanction fasting and abstinence from food. The Bible holds together these diverse statements about eating and about fasting, about the entire world as God’s temple and about constructing a temple or church for prayer. This diversity is not meant to cancel out or neutralize but rather to balance and enrich.
We build a temple for the community for the same reason that we build a home for a family. A home is necessary, at least for the large majority of humankind, in order to remain closely knit in love and intimacy, in order to share sorrow and joy and thereby support one another, in order to nourish and protect during sickness and old age. We need the home in order to learn how to love properly. Only then are we capable of extending our genuine love to the larger human family. Likewise, we benefit greatly from a church. Here we learn to be family or covenanted people, bonded to one another and to God. Through the church, we have a place for prayer and instruction and a community where people undertake various offices of teaching, of leading in prayer, and of prophetically challenging. Without the church we would have been deprived of the Scriptures, of the sacraments and the memory of saints.
Many have experienced the Marian sanctuary at Lourdes in France as a very special sacred space, where the nearness of the supernatural can be felt, and which flows into many works of mercy towards the sick. Periodic visits to such a shrine can indeed help to confirm our faith, but they should help rather than hinder our ability to find God’s presence within and around us in our everyday world.