Only Consecrated Hands Should Touch Our Lord
Tuesday January 27, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Samuel 6:12b-15, 17-19) Gospel (St. Mark 3:31-35)
In the first reading, we hear about the transfer of the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Obededom up to the tent that David had pitched for the ark. The part that we did not hear was the reason the ark was at the house of Obededom. You may recall that the Philistines had captured the ark (we saw that last week) and afterwards they ran into some problems with the ark down in their temple of the false god, Dagon. They would wake up in the morning and the statue of Dagon was flat on its face, they would put it back up, and the next morning it was the same way. Then there were all kinds of plagues that were breaking out in Philistine. And then what happened is they put the ark of God on an oxcart and sent it back. At the house of Obededom, as the oxcart was making its way up to Jerusalem, the wagon started to tip over. A young man reached out to steady the ark –it was forbidden that anyone would touch the ark – and immediately upon touching it, the young man died. So David said, “Well, if this is the way the Lord is going to be, I can’t bring the ark up to Jerusalem.” And so he left it at the house of Obededom. After seeing that God was blessing the house of Obededom abundantly for having the ark there, then David decided that he could bring the ark the rest of the way up to Jerusalem. Now when we hear about the fact that he sacrificed an ox and a fatling with every six steps, we have to realize that the house of Obededom was right on the outskirts of Jerusalem. So it was probably only a couple of blocks’ distance that he was actually having to transfer the ark. It was not like he was going for miles and miles, sacrificing an ox and a fatling every six steps, but maybe only a few blocks that he would have been having to do this. Nonetheless, what we see is the attitude that one really needs to have when it comes to the Lord.
First of all, we see that there has to be the reverence. The people of the Old Testament were absolutely forbidden to touch the ark, and this young man who was acting out of charity certainly would have known that. That is, he was trying to save the ark from falling; yet at the same time, because it was forbidden under the pain of death, he undertook the penalty at that point. We see David then acting in fear, which was not the right thing to do, because he left the ark at the house of Obededom on the threshing floor because he was afraid that God might do something more in Jerusalem – purely selfish. That is, “If it’s going to cause problems, let it stay at the house of Obededom and let him suffer; I don’t want to have to deal with it,” is basically the attitude that he took, which was completely wrong. But then at the point when the ark was finally transferred up to the tent, because there was no temple built at this point, then we see again the festivities, the joy, and the reverence that we need to have as we come before the Lord.
When we think of Our Lord being truly present in our midst, again, we stop to think about the reverence that we need to have. We have gotten to the point now where everybody and their brother and sister is reaching out their hand to the Lord – which is not what God would want nor is it what the Church wants. But it has just gotten to the point where it does not seem to matter to anybody whether or not they are handling Jesus. Everybody seems to be passing out the Lord as though this is no big deal. It is not popcorn that we are handing out; this is God that we are distributing to the people of God. It also reminds us that we should not be receiving Holy Communion in the hand. After all, if it is forbidden to touch the ark (in which the two stone tablets were contained) under pain of death, what are we going to have to answer to one day for having stuck our hands out to the Lord, for having put Jesus in unconsecrated hands? There is no excuse for such a thing. True, it is allowed by the bishops of America, but we should all know better as well. The teaching of the Church is exceedingly clear that this is not what the Church desires. The Church allows it because the bishops have allowed it, but it is not what the Church desires at all. The documents make it very, very clear that Communion on the tongue is exactly the way that the Church wants Communion to be received.
So we need to think very seriously about our disposition toward the Lord. Thanks be to God, here we do not have that to worry about so much. But it still amazes me that when I go elsewhere the people of Saint Agnes stick their hands out when they are not at Saint Agnes. My heart just breaks because these are people who know better, and still they reach their hand out to the Lord. It is not right. We should come before the Lord with only the greatest reverence, the greatest joy, and we should have the proper disposition. Be very, very careful. The only ones who were allowed to handle the Ark of the Covenant were the priests, and that was if they put two poles in it and they held the poles. They could not touch the ark itself. Not even the high priest was allowed to touch the Ark of the Covenant.
Well, if that is the case, what are we doing with the New Covenant? How badly have we violated Jesus in the way that we are dealing with Him: having everyone coming up to distribute Communion, receiving Holy Communion in the hand, taking Jesus here and there with the greatest irreverence, throwing Him in a purse and leaving Him there overnight, sticking Him in a pocket, whatever it might be? We are going to have very much to answer to for our irreverence toward the Blessed Sacrament. At the same time, we have an opportunity to make reparation for our own sins and those of others, and to be able to recognize that this is truly God in our midst. As such, we want to come before Him with the most perfect disposition and the greatest reverence in the way that we come before Him to pray, and most especially, in the way we receive Him in Holy Communion.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.