By KATIE GROSS
After making the crossing to the other side of the sea,
Jesus and his disciples came to land at Gennesaret
and tied up there.
As they were leaving the boat, people immediately recognized him.
They scurried about the surrounding country
and began to bring in the sick on mats
to wherever they heard he was.
Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered,
they laid the sick in the marketplaces
and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak;
and as many as touched it were healed.
My friend Faith recently shared an article on Twitter that she studied in her New Testament class in college. Its main question was this: why are Christians in television shows always Catholic? It is very rare to see a character on television talk about their Presbyterian faith, or their Unitarian faith, or whatever it may be. With few exceptions, every character in television that openly claims to be Christian is also a Catholic. Why? Well, because film is visual, it must have a visual faith to display. Catholic characters can make the sign of a cross or walk into an incense-filled church and the point is instantly made to the viewer that he is a Christian. A Protestant character would have a much more difficult time conveying his faith on film, simply because his faith would involve fewer physical gestures, and his church could many times just look like another room. The point is that Catholics love to put their prayers into a physical form. However, this physical nature of our faith is often misunderstood even by Catholics. Should we fill our houses with statues? When a woman at church pulls out three different colors of scapulars, claiming that they each have “powers,” should we not think this is witchcraft? Of course we should not. However, we must certainly take the time to understand the role of physical objects in our faith so we do not fall into these traps.The first step is to realize that the created world is not evil—in fact, it is incredibly holy, because it was made by God. This is the common thread that runs between today’s Mass readings.
In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw how good the light was… Many religions have as their central goal the elimination of ‘physical things’ from faith. In their eyes, physical things are destined to die, and as such, cause suffering. However, what Christians choose to believe is that the physical world must be good because it was created by God, and God thought it was “very good.” An artist wouldn’t want his greatest work to be shunned by the public because it was only on display temporarily. Also, God made you, and clearly God does not think your body is a bad thing. In fact, it would be impossible to live without a body. Your personality and your aspirations would be nothing without your body, through which you live them out.
On the same note, today’s Psalm says, “How manifold are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you have wrought them all—the earth is full of your creatures; Bless the LORD, O my soul! Alleluia.” Imagine if it were to say, “Your creatures are good, O Lord—I think, but they are going to pass away so I will ignore them and suppress my creative nature.”
Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered,they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed. At this point, some Christians may argue that God’s creation is good, but paintings and statues are created by man and therefore are not the same thing. However, the Gospel today says that even Christ’s robes had power, just because they were so close to Christ. They were not Christ themselves, but still had power. How would this be so if created things were somehow unclean?
One of my theology teachers once described blessed objects as a sort of “package for prayer.” Just as we sing at Church and make a sensory noise out of a prayer, so too do we attach prayers to physical objects. These are what the Church calls ‘sacramentals’—rosary beads, scapulars, and even songs.They do not have ‘power.’ Instead, they are a prayer made physical. We believe that by looking at a blessed object, we are reminded of the prayer and sentiment we attached to it. This certainly can help us grow in our faith. Students: it’s like finishing a paper after a long night of work. While the paper in itself may have no redeeming quality and could be easily overlooked, when you look at that paper, you know the satisfying feeling of having worked so hard to complete it. There is a sentiment attached to objects—in the same way, Catholics attach prayers to sacramentals.
We must remember that we are created in the image and likeness of God as physical beings. We have a desire to express our faith in physical ways because we share in the creativity of God, who made all things. If you want to sing a song in Church, sing it! If you want to have a picture of Our Lady in your house, put one up! This is all a participation in the creativity of God.