The Accidental Catholic by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, "My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live." He went off with him, and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.
There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, "If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured." Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who has touched my clothes?" But his disciples said to him, "You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, 'Who touched me?'" And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction."
While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official's house arrive and said, "Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?" Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, "Do not be afraid; just have faith." He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So he went in and said to them, "Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep." And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out. He took along the child's father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!"
During His earthly life and in His small area of the world, our Lord was what we moderns would call a celebrity. Scripture tells us that crowds came to Him from all over - crowds so great that they blocked the streets and doorways (Mk 2:2) and so demanding that He and His apostles could not even eat (Mk 3:20). Knowing how insistent and unruly crowds can be, we can easily imagine that people must have pushed in upon our Lord, bumping and jostling one another and Him. Some surely came for reasons of faith or devotion. But, human nature being what it is, others probably came only to see the local celebrity, to marvel at His miracles or just to follow the crowd.
So when on one occasion our Lord in the midst of a crowd asks, "Who has touched my clothes?" His disciples reasonable responds, "You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, 'Who touched me?'" (Mk 5:30-31). With all the people pushing, elbowing and shoving, it could have been anyone. Yet our Lord asks the question for a reason. Most people in the crowd touched Him and His clothes because they could not help it - that's the way crowds are. They bumped up against him accidentally, or perhaps touched Him just out of curiosity. But someone in the crowd touched Him for a different reason: the woman "afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years" (Mk 5:25), who thought, "if I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured" (Mk 5:28). She "came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak" (Mk 5:27). Unlike the rest of the crowd, she touched Him not accidentally, in the jostling of people, but deliberately, in faith.
We do well to keep in mind the distinction between the crowd and the woman - between accidentally bumping into our Lord and deliberately touching Him in faith. It is the difference between knowing about our Lord and knowing Him personally; between proximity to Christ and intimacy with Him; between going through the motions and striving for holiness. And either one is possible for us.
Just as then there were some who accidentally brushed up against our Lord in all the commotion, so today there is the "Accidental Catholic." He might know all about our Lord, about His life and miracles. He might be familiar with the Mass and Catholic devotions - the prayers, responses, hymns, gestures, etc. But he never deliberately invests himself in them. He recites the Creed and goes to Communion, but without reflection or thought - simply because the rest of the crowd does and because it happens every Sunday. He only bumps into our Lord. They happen to be in the same place at the same time. He confuses proximity to our Lord for intimacy with Him, and Catholic "things" for Catholic faith. Each of us - and especially we "cradle Catholics" - is in danger of becoming an "Accidental Catholic." We should examine ourselves often on this point, asking whether we are in fact reaching out to Christ or just running into Him.
The solution, of course, is not to stop this contact with the Lord - to end our prayers, devotions, Communions, etc. Rather, it is to do and make them deliberately, as acts of faith. Outwardly, the woman with hemorrhages may have touched our Lord in much the same way as anyone else. The difference was that, unlike the crowd, she invested herself in that action. She placed all her hope, her entire future - indeed, her very self - in that one touch. So also our practice of the Faith, although routine, should never be rote. Every prayer we utter, every sign of the cross we make, every Communion we receive, should be as a hand reaching out to Christ - seeking the power that goes out from Him (cf Mk 5:30).
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