His Desire for Closeness

Homily for the Second Scrutiny. Gospel: John 9:1-41.

Our family is not particularly good at saying goodbye. Our relatives call it “the Baumgardner goodbye.” First, we say goodbye in the kitchen. Then we move to the foyer and say goodbye again. Then we move an entire three feet to the front porch to say goodbye for a third time. Then we walk our relatives out to the car and say goodbye for a final time—usually. So, our family is not particularly good at saying goodbye. The Baumgardner goodbye is kind of like the Von Trapp family goodnight. It’s very long, protracted, and almost painful. That’s why I’ve always preferred the Irish goodbye where you just leave and don’t say anything.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a few awkward goodbyes in the last weeks and months. People are in different places when it comes to physical contact; they have different comfort levels. Some people don’t want to have any physical contact whatsoever. Some people are comfortable with an elbow bump or a fist bump. Some people are comfortable even with a handshake or a hug. So, people are at different places with physical contact, and it can make goodbyes somewhat awkward.

Recently I went to give someone a handshake, and they were not someone who is giving handshakes during this time, and so I had to pretend like I was starting to learn stick shift and I was practicing my shifting. At least that’s how I explained it to them. Another time I went to give someone a hug and they were not someone who is giving hugs. And so instead of standing there awkwardly, I just decided to make it more awkward and started singing “Baby shark.”

We have a natural desire to be close to people. And we often express that through some form of physical contact, either with a handshake, a hug, or something else. And as much as we desire to be close to those whom we love, God desires that even more. God has a deep desire to be close to us. That is why God became Incarnate. That’s why the Son of God became one of us, why He took on flesh and blood. God so desperately desired to be close to us that He became one of us, so that He might walk among us, that He might reach out His hands to touch us, heal us, bring us salvation.

And in our gospel today we see a profound and radical revelation of God’s desire to be close to us. We see Jesus spit on the ground, form clay from the dust of the earth, and smear it on the blind man’s eyes. What a radical and profound revelation of God’s desire to be close to us! If you remember from the Book of Genesis, God created man from the dust of the earth, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. What an intimate way to create us—a way that suggests a deep desire for closeness with us. And Jesus came to restore the closeness that was lost because of sin. And so Jesus does to this blind man what God the Father did when He made the first man: Jesus forms clay from the dust of the earth and He smears it on the eyes of the blind man in order to touch him, heal him, and bring him salvation.

Pope St. Leo the Great, one of the popes of the early Church said this: “What was visible in our Savior has passed over into His Sacraments.” Everything that we see Jesus doing in the gospels—we see Him walking among His people, reaching out to them, touching them, healing, and bringing them salvation—everything that we see in Jesus Christ in the gospels—all of that has passed over into the Sacraments. So when we receive a Sacrament, it is an encounter with same Jesus Christ who walked this earth, and who reached out, touched, healed, and brought salvation to those who were sick and in need of His mercy.

The Sacraments preserve the possibility of an encounter this same Jesus Christ who became one of us and who so desperately desired to be close to us that He was willing to reach out and touch us sinful creatures. The Sacraments are a continuation of the Incarnation of Jesus. And they are expressions of God’s deep desire to be close to us.

One of the great tragedies of this time is the fear and suspicious we now have of what is bodily and material. And this is such a great tragedy because it is precisely through what is bodily and material that Christ has saved us. It is precisely by taking on our bodies, the matter of humanity, the stuff of common life, that Jesus Christ has saved us. We are bodily and material creatures and so we need to be saved in a bodily and material way—hence God becoming man and hence the Sacraments, which are bodily and material ways for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to reach out His hand through time and touch us in the present. The Sacraments are profound encounters with this same Jesus Christ and how tragic that we are now afraid and suspicious of receiving them.

Today we are celebrating the Second Scrutiny which is a rite prepares our elect to receive the Sacraments of Initiation. And I don’t want to embarrass our elect who is here, but I know she has been longing to receive these Sacraments. Why? Because she gets it. She knows what these Sacraments are. She knows that in receiving these Sacraments she will have a radical encounter with the God who so desperately desires to be close to her and who has left us the Sacraments so that He may reach through time and touch her, heal her, and bring her salvation.

Her own longing for the Sacraments has been a great inspiration and reminder to me. And, my dear friends, as we journey with her through these last days and weeks as she prepares to receive the Sacraments on August 15th, I pray that her example may inspire in us a renewed desire and zeal for the Sacraments: A zeal for the God who so desperately desires to come close to us that He became one of us and walked among us, and stretched out His hand and touched us, and healed us.

As we receive the Precious and Blood of our Lord today in Holy Communion let us remember that the God whom we are receiving is the same God who walked this earth two-thousand years ago. May this Mass be a renewed encounter with God’s desire—His deep and desperate desire—to be close to us. Amen.