Faith, we see this in the lives of the saints, we see men and women who exercised their faith until it filled them with a truly supernatural hope and courage. St. Jan Sarkander is a good example. After his young wife died childless, he was ordained a parish priest and he served valiantly in the eastern Czech Republic during the early 1600s. Those were very hard times, especially because of the Thirty Years War, a horrible conflict between Protestants and Catholics that ripped Europe apart. When the war reached the area around his parish, Fr. Jan escaped into Poland to avoid being captured by the occupying Protestant forces.
But he couldn’t stay away for long because he worried about his people. After five months he returned to the war-torn Czech Republic to be with his parish. Soon after his return, a Polish army of Catholic soldiers moved in, and a bloody battle seemed unavoidable. Jan desperately wanted to avoid any killing and bloodshed. So trusting in Christ, he marched into the Polish army’s camp carrying a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament. This was both his shield and a chastisement to the Polish forces. Good Catholic guilt.
Fr. Jan won a hearing with the Polish field commander, and no battles were fought in that region. The Protestant Baron leading the rebellion, however, later arrested the future saint as a spy, mistakenly blaming him for the arrival of the Polish troops. Jan was imprisoned. They wanted him to renounce his Catholic faith and to break the seal of confession to give them secret information about the opposing leaders. He was tortured, stretched on a rack, beaten, and set on fire, but he stayed faithful to his priestly duties until death. Challenging an army with no weapon but the Eucharist and protecting the seal of confession even under weeks of torture, this is the courage that a mature faith gives us by casting out our self-centered fears.
Now in our Gospel we heard two examples, two stories of this great and mature faith. Each story though separate parallels the other. Both the woman and the girl are dead, one physically and the other spiritually. At that time according to Mosaic Law a hemorrhaging woman was considered ritually impure. And if you go to the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament you’ll find all the prescriptions, and laws, and directives that guided the life of the faithful Jew. Leviticus lists what they could touch or not touch, what they could eat and not eat. Now for this woman considered unclean anything she touched or sat upon also became unclean. Any person she touched would become unclean. She would’ve been shunned by her husband and all the people of her community. She wasn’t even allowed to enter the Temple to worship. So for twelve years she had been kept at a distance, kept at a distance from her family and her friends and from God. She was a pariah who couldn’t participate in all the ordinary things of life. I’m sure that on top of the physical suffering there was a tremendous amount of psychological and spiritual suffering.
Now this woman has been to many doctors and it’s only gotten worse. But she’s heard of this healer named Jesus, the messiah maybe, and in her deep faith she reasons, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be healed.” And so she touches Jesus, and in doing so, according to Mosaic Law she’s made him unclean. And the crowd was very uncomfortable with this woman touching Jesus and when found out she approaches Jesus in fear and trembling. She has done something very terrible; she’s broken the Law of Moses. But a miracle has happened, Jesus isn’t made unclean the exact opposite has happened the woman is cured and made clean. She is restored to life in her family and in the community. She can worship again in the temple.
Now in the other story we hear of Jairus the synagogue official. And he too exhibits a deep faith in Jesus’ ability to heal. He would have been a prominent layman whose duties would have included oversight of synagogue activities and finances. This man’s humble posture before Jesus, he fell at his feet, is remarkable in view of the fact that Jesus’ last visit to the synagogue ended with a plot to kill him. Now Jesus, when he gets to the house of Jairus, does something forbidden by Mosaic Law he touches the dead girl’s hand. This would have made him impure. Only the immediate family could touch the dead body. But his healing touch raises her to life.
Through these two miracles Jesus puts an end to the ritual code found in Leviticus. He was not made unclean. Contact with Jesus made the unclean clean. The New Israel, the Church, is brought about through contact with him. His touch brings life. As we heard in the first reading, “God did not make death.” It was the exact opposite he created us to have life, and to have life to the fullest with him. When we kneel before the priest in the confessional and open our hearts to God’s mercy, we are like Jairus kneeling before Christ in Galilee. When we touch the body and blood of Jesus under the appearance of bread and wind in the Eucharist, we are like the woman with hemorrhages. In both instances Christ’s divine life flows into our wounded lives. The same Jesus of the Gospels is still at work through the sacraments, still present and active in history, still healing, giving life, and strengthening those with faith. And so we approach the sacraments with humble faith.
Let me end with a couple of questions. When we approach our Lord in the sacraments, do we approach him like one in the crowd we heard about in the Gospel who half-consciously jostles up against him preoccupied by many other thoughts? Or, do we approach Him in the way of the afflicted woman or Jairus? Because they are models for us in the way to approach Jesus. While crowds of people were bumping into him as he walked along, the woman with hemorrhages and Jairus purposefully set out to meet him and to touch him. They trusted his power. They trusted his touch. Their deep faith brought them into contact with Jesus and as a result they experienced dramatic healing.
God did not make death so with every sacrament we receive we receive divine life. Let us ask always for healing let us ask always for life. Where do I need healing? Where do I need life? How do I need healing? How do I need life? St. Jan Sarkander went to his death defending the great truth of the Eucharist and reconciliation, may we be like the kneeling Jairus and the afflicted woman approaching Jesus with faith trusting in his power and in his touch.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley