Sunday, February 19, 2012
Years ago, Jim Carey starred in a movie called “Yes Man.” He played a character who was so stuck in the past that he could not be open to any present opportunities. The operative word in his life was “no.” No to anything that might disturb his comfort…no to anything that he might disturb his routine…no to anything that might cause him to have to change. It doesn’t take us long to see that although his heart and lungs and brain are still working, he has really died. Finally recognizing that he has a problem and that he cannot go on this way, he registers for a self-help group in which he is told that he must begin to learn to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes his way. This, of course, leads to many comical moments in the course of the movie, but even as he endures everything that befalls him, he begins to recognize that something important is happening; he is coming to life again. No longer stuck in the past or afraid to try something new, he enjoys a whole new outlook on life.
On this last weekend before we enter into the Season of Lent, the Church presents us with Scriptures that offer us a similar message. In the first reading, the Prophet Isaiah is addressing the people of Israel who are exiled in Babylon. They have been taken captive by foreigners and are separated from all that is dear and familiar to them. Earlier on, Isaiah spoke words of comfort to them, reminding them of God’s fidelity and encouraging them to be hopeful. But now the prophet takes a different,
harsher tact with them. Isaiah cautions them, “Remember not the deeds of the past.” At a time when all they could hold on to were their memories of how things used to be was the prophet being more than a little insensitive? Not really. Isaiah was not telling them not to have memories ; rather he was telling them not to live in their memories—not to cling so hard to the past that they were unable to respond to the call of God in the present. If they were going to know hope for new life, they had to
let go of the past and learn to live and act differently.
This is a danger we can all succumb to from time to time—living in the past, glorifying a time or moment in our history –personally or as a community—to the point that we get stuck and cannot move beyond it. In admonishing the people of Israel to “not remember the deeds of the past” Isaiah is reminding them that when they are stuck in the past, they cease to live. Living and discipleship involves an openness to change and moving forward. If we are stuck in the past, we miss what is
happening in the present moment and we cannot plan for a future filled with life and growth.
In a different way, that same dynamic is at work in the Gospel. The man with paralysis wants to change. He wants to reclaim his life, stop lamenting about his condition, and move on. Although he desires to say “yes” to what he believes Jesus can do for him, he finds himself unable to get access to Jesus and so he calls upon the community to help him. When others come to his aid and find an alternative way to gain access to Jesus, he is able to realize his hope of new and restored life. On the surface, we may think this is simply another miracle story—a physical healing. But on another—deeper—level there is another equally important miracle for our consideration: the miracle of what happens when we are willing to let go of the past and turn to the strength of the community to support us in our desire
We all deal with paralysis from time to time. We are paralyzed when we get stuck in the past…when we refuse to accept change in our lives…when we are afraid to speak our yes to what God might be asking of us in the present moment…when we desire to change, but don’t know if we can do it by ourselves. At those moments, we need—like the people in the gospel—to come together as a community to strengthen one another and ultimately know the fullness of life God desires for us.
— Fr. Anthony M. Criscitelli, T.O.R.