Pick Up Your Mat
One of my favorite stories in the Gospels occurs in the Gospel of Mark, known as the ‘Healing of the Paralytic.’ We all know the story. Jesus was inside a home and was surrounded by many, so much so that no others could fit into the room. In an effort to bring their friend to meet Jesus, a few men decide to climb up the roof, break open a hole and drop the man down, right in the center of the crowd. The first thing Christ says to the paralyzed gentleman is ‘Child, your sins are forgiven.’ The scribes in attendance grew into an internal uproar and claimed that Christ was blaspheming by his words, when Christ answers in his usual paradoxical tone with, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’?” The man then rises up and walks away, healed and changed forever.
The reason I appreciate this specific story so much is that it unabashedly proclaims an embodied Christianity. Perhaps not at first glance as Christ is intentionally more concerned with the soul of the man and the forgiveness of his sins, but at second thought Jesus makes the connection for all those who see that the effect of the Messiah is not one of a dualistic nature. This effect, both shocking and revealing in its extent, is one in which the body and the soul are rejoined within the forgiveness offered by God made man. Jesus never disconnected the body from the soul. When He met others, he met them as Adam and Eve met each other in their pre-lapsarian state. He saw with a pure vision, a vision in which the purpose and meaning of the body were appropriated through the enlivening soul.
This passage also proclaims the intense necessity of the workers in the vineyard to bring the needs of the people to Christ. Were it not for the focus and drive of the men carrying their friend, this miracle and the change affected by His actions on the spectators may never have occurred. However, it wasn’t a disembodied enfranchisement where ones hopes and intentions for another were enough. No. they had to literally pick up this man and bring him to Jesus. So while we might have the best of meaning to make a difference for the Church or for and individual, it is all for naught without the requisite action of physically doing something about it. Many who have this desire in their hearts to make a difference yet yield when it is time to take action might need to overcome a bit of fear. A fear of standing out. A fear of failing. A fear of knowing the depths of love and mercy that Christ offers yet we might feel inadequate or unprepared for such a moment of adoratio in the face of God.
Perhaps this is a reason as to why we do not see much of the cultural milieu of Catholicism in much of the modern Church. Where in days gone by we have the incredible additions to Catholic culture from the greats like Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Bernini, and Dante, we have come to a point where the new generation, those who have been raised in the Cartesian structural and catechetical models, are no longer satisfied with this disembodiment of living the great Christian tradition. They recognize that a disembodied Christianity is one of inaction, unimaginative and fear. In all reality a disembodied Christianity is not Christianity at all. The generation who marches at pro-life rallies, takes part in Catholic meetings at pubs, enjoys the arts for what they are without trying to disingenuously make them ‘faith-based’, are ready to be called to the mission of the Church. The next step for the Church is to give them something to do. You love to write? Excellent, work on becoming the next G. K. Chesterton. You love to sing? Fantastic, use the poetry and excellence of Dante and voices of the newest and greatest of your generation to inspire you. You love to cook? There is a soup kitchen in need of help and the poor deserve to eat the best.
St. Thomas Aquinas had it right in his infusion of the five senses into everything we do as Christians. A real problem occurs when we start neglecting the sights, the smells, the sounds and the feel of a beautiful faith. Indeed, a deep interior life is of utmost importance; however the interior life is only developed all the more when we can participate in the great act of creation as our heavenly Father has created. Leonard Sax, in his excellent work ‘Boys Adrift’, explains the major difference between a knowing of mental knowledge and a knowing of experience. In this book he uses an example of an Eastern European teacher bringing her children to the forest and putting them in pairs. One of the children would blindfold the other and guide that student about 10 paces up to a tree. The blindfolded participant was then told to touch and smell the tree. Some even licked it. After ‘experiencing’ the tree they would walk the student away about 10 paces, spin them around, and take off the blindfold. They were then asked to point out which tree they touched. All of the students chose the right tree. You see, it was in ‘knowing’ an ‘other’ through the senses that the students came to recognize the deeper worth of the ‘other’.
This is what an embodied Christianity can do. Rather than expecting a child or someone in the Faith to come to know Jesus by way of education alone, is like telling a man about his future spouse but never introducing him to her. Never letting him see her, smell her, in other words, it’s lunacy. The great tradition of Catholicism is one of cultural experience and expression. Christ healed the paralytic in order to physically show his dominion of the kingdom of God, we too, the workers in the vineyard, must be willing to do our part to bring other in to experience and come to know such a King.