A new piece of liturgical “art” appeared in my parish church this week – and it filled my heart with wonder.
Not the mystical variety of “wonder,” however. More like the dumb-struck version: I was more-or-less left speechless by the sign that proclaimed a point I considered blindingly obvious:
“Holy Water Is Not For Human Consumption”
Try as I might, I couldn’t call to mind a scenario that might have led to this off-putting declaration. An unruly 5-year-old attempting to take a drink from the spigot? Even in such a case, seems like there’d be a less intrusive way to make a point about treating sacramentals sacramentally – without casting aspersions on the entire community in perpetuity.
The more I mulled this indignity in the days that followed, the more my tongue loosened. I ended up mentioning it, in fact, to not one but two different priest-friends of mine – hoping to secure their blessing over (or at least their appreciation of) my mini-tirade.
Turns out, neither priest rose to the bait. Rather, both offered unexpected perspectives born of their deep experience in ministry.
One said, “Maybe somebody has threatened to sue the parish…after becoming ill from drinking water from the receptacle.” And I had to admit: even a single threat of lawsuit would make a warning label seem like a small price to pay. (Although I’d still prefer to see a much smaller sign.)
The other related the story of a woman he’d encountered many years ago, at a parish in another state. She was filling a gallon-jug from the holy water receptacle…so he inquired, “Mary, why on earth do you need to take so much?” And she replied, “Oh, Father – I make my husband’s coffee with holy water each morning. Otherwise, he’s unbearable!”
Who knows – that story may actually be true. But even if it’s not, it caused me to muse about how delicate a situation it can be…when we attempt to minister to one another. In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus warns the 72: “Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves…”
In some cases, our communities receive the Good News with great joy – and we return rejoicing from the encounters we’ve had along the way. Other times, we might find ourselves in a place where common sense is in exceedingly short supply – and we wind up posting signs in order to keep from getting sued.
“Yet know this,” Jesus reminds us in Sunday’s gospel, “the kingdom of God is at hand” in every such circumstance.
Still, it takes something more than holy water, it seems to me, if we’re going to bring about the harvest that the Lord desires — without losing heart. The real key is to draw on Jesus, the Living Water: Then and only then can we be sure that our deepest thirst will be slaked.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.