Deep in the heart of winter the Church invites us to meditate on the warmth and compassion of our God with today’s liturgy. For centuries the Church has honored St. Blase, Bishop and Martyr on this feast day. Today it remains an optional memorial in the Western Church and a Solemnity in the Eastern Church. Blase is remembered for his great faith – a faith that made it possible to cure the sick and to endure terrible tortures for the name and the mission of Jesus. Attached to his feast in the west is a blessing for protection from afflictions to the throat. As a singer, I have long appreciated his patronage and sought the Blessing of St. Blase with word and intertwined candles: “Through the intercession of St. Blase, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from ailments of the throat and from every other evil. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Blessing of St. Blase)
Beyond the optional memorial of Blase, however, the Church offers us a rich banquet of text to meditate on in the heart of winter’s darkness – between the warmth of Christmas and the challenges of Lent. Filled with human emotion, the first reading tells of the joy of victory transformed to untold grief by the death of a father’s son – who is paradoxically his enemy – a real prodigal son story for us to meditate upon. The Gospel presents the story of another parent, Jairus, a synagogue official and his daughter. This time the emotions are reversed – the father’s grief is transformed to joy by the rescue of his daughter from death by Jesus. Sandwiched into the Gospel text is one of the most amazing stories of the New Testament, the story of the woman with a chronic hemorrhaging condition. It is on this text that I want to focus for a moment – not because the others are not worthy of our attention – by no means is that the case, but because this text has so many revelatory dimensions built into it.
Mark assumes that his reader is familiar with Jewish law and
custom regarding bleeding. In the old law, blood had many layers of
meaning attached, one of the most important being the power of life.
Shedding blood caused a ritual impurity that made it impossible for the one
bleeding to enter the synagogue or be in any social contact with others until
after a ritual period of time had passed. The seclusion was required
so that no other person acquired the impurity by physical contact of the
merest touch. The bleeding as with any illness, furthermore, could
be construed as a punishment from God – not unlike the way some people consider
victims of AIDS today. So this poor woman was chronically ill, outcast
by a community who believed her to be accursed of God. It is no wonder that
the Gospel writer tells us that she had spent all of her money with doctors
trying to be healed – the illness was bad enough, but the social consequences
would have been unbearable.
In Ignatian prayer we are invited to place ourselves in the woman’s
position. What inner wound in our life continues to bleed? What about
our life is unhealed and alienating us from our colleagues, our friends,
or even our family? If we can believe in the person and mission of
Jesus, it is possible that our faith will save us as well as this anonymous
Jewish woman. Something more for us to ponder than our sore throats
this cold February morning.
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