Once again, my family took advantage this summer of the generous hospitality of close friends with a house on Spoon Lake in central Illinois, described by the recreational community itself as a “600-acre, spring-fed lake with 19 miles of beautifully wooded shoreline.”
I’m grateful to be able to give my kids the kind of vacations my wife and I rarely experienced in childhood. Intermixed with the sun and relaxation are opportunities for them to gain new experiences and develop new talents. My 11-year-old daughter learned to her delight this year to slalom ski on the lake. My 10-year-old son became an expert shot with a crossbow. Among other things, my two younger daughters learned how to care for and walk small dogs, and were amazed during one early evening open-air jaunt to come within 15 yards of a watchful but unafraid deer dining in a grassy field.
From my column last week, you probably also picked up that we were able to make it to daily Mass several times in the closest town with a Catholic church, which was about 25 minutes away. It’s a very pretty 19th-century brick church and the surprising resting place of the bones of a boy Roman martyr.
One of the weekdays, noon Mass was celebrated by a Tanzanian priest who seemed to have tailored his brief homily specifically for us.
It was especially striking because he made an unusual point about the well-known story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man (see Mt 9:1-8).
Jesus enters his own town, and the Gospel says, “There people brought to him a paralytic lying on a stretcher. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.’”
Most homilists tackle one of the central aspects of the story which immediately follows, namely that some scribes present thought Jesus blasphemed by claiming the power to forgive sins, and Jesus’ rebuke of them.
But this priest instead focused on the friends of the paralytic. Because the sick man was unable to walk, his friends had to take the initiative to carry him to Jesus on a stretcher.
Also somewhat surprisingly, the Gospel says Jesus healed the man after seeing “their faith,” and doesn’t specify his at all.
The takeaway? That we sometimes will find that it is our friends who “carry” us to Christ. And that Christ responds to the petitions of those who pray for their friends.
Noting these lessons, the priest underscored the importance of cultivating good friendships — those that bring us to Christ — and avoiding bad friendships, which are likely to pull us away from him.
I’m blessed with a few good friends like that, and it was a blessing to be able to sit next to one of them and his family that day in church listening to that homily.
As always I look forward to your comments and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.