Sunday, February 15, 2009

Alone in a crowd

Today at Mass, the readings began with a description of Old Testament requirements for isolating people with leprosy and ended with Jesus healing a leper. Father mostly focused on the metaphorical sense in which these readings could be taken, with physical illness being symbolic of spiritual illness, i.e. sin.

One aspect of Father's homily that I really connected with was an anecdote about how, when he was a seminarian and helping teach a parish's first communion class, he had exlained Hell to the seven-year-olds. When asked about it, he told them that it was a state of being seperated from the presence of God forever. The kids really didn't understand this, despite several tries of wording it differently, so Father used the analogy of, "Imagine you are in a huge, crowded mall with your mommy, and you're holding your mommy's hand. Then imagine that, somehow, you lose your grip on her hand and suddenly, you are completely surrounded by people you don't know and can't find your mommy, no matter how hard you try. That's what Hell is like."

This idea, Father said, is basically his response when people-mostly men, he says-blithely laugh off the idea of Hell by saying something like, "Well, at least I'll have plenty of company there." Even if that were true, he said, each of those people would be isolated from God and, therefore, somehow isolated from one another (even if not actually physically). They would each be in their own personal Hell, even if it "looked" to an outsider like a huge crowd.

One of my favorite songs in high school, recorded by Dave Matthews Band, included the lyrics, "People in every direction; no words exchanged, no time to exchange them." I think I really struggled with this feeling back then, and still do to some degree (although this has been hugely reduced by being married and having children). Maybe you know the feeling: like you're alone, even in the company of many others. Maybe you've noticed, when you meet someone on the sidewalk, the tendency many of us have of averting our eyes-avoiding even the momentary connection you might make with someone else.

God, please help me to remember that you made us to love one another and to share our lives with one another. If artificially seperating ourselves from one another is what it's like to be seperated from you, help us to find healing and come together in our families, our communities, and our world. Amen

PS: As you might suspect, Father did admit that the whole class of seven-year-olds wound up in tears. Oops! :-)

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