Sunday, February 22, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's homily for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb 22, 2009

Readings: Is 43:18-25; 2 Cor 1:18-22; Mk 2:1-12

1. One of the things that has always struck me about this gospel story is the phrase, "When Jesus saw their faith." He was deliberately including at least some of the men who were lowering the paralytic through the roof. But I’ve always wondered if he was referring primarily to them; we never know the paralytic’s thoughts or feelings—he never speaks. Perhaps over time he had become a very bitter man, afflicted as he was with this debilitating condition. It does happen. But his friends didn’t give up. They were willing to make the effort to bring him to Jesus and try to save their friend. Perhaps it was mainly their faith that Jesus saw, that persuaded Jesus to work the miracle of healing on the paralytic.

2. How much that has been a part of our Catholic tradition—that we help others and pray for others. We pray for others at all times, but especially in their moments of great weakness. To me one of the most beautiful expressions of that comes in John Henry Newman’s long poem, "The Dream of Gerontius." It’s an imaginative account of what’s going through a person’s mind as they approach very closely the moment of death, indeed, what it’s like to go through the act of dying. The poem begins: "Jesu, Maria—I am near to death, and Thou art calling me; I know it now—not by the token of this faltering breath, this chill at heart, this dampness on my brow, (Jesus, have mercy! Mary, pray for me!") .... O horror! This it is, my dearest, this; So pray for me, my friends, I who have not strength to pray." (Pp. 25-26) It’s the community of prayer that we rely on in our moment of weakness. It’s one of the strongest expression of the "communion of saints" that we believe in.

3. One of the first ways that the early Christians were recognized by Roman authorities was not as a religion, but as a "burial society." They were known as a group of people who took care of the sick and the dying and the burials afterwards. And they prayed during this time of tending to the dying. It was one of the places where the sense of "community" was so strong among the early Christians. And burial societies have continued though the centuries in the Catholic tradition. We still see that so often in obituary notices today when it will say: "The Rosary will be prayed by the Christian Mothers or the Daughters of Isabella or the Holy Name Society" at such and such a time.

4. Of course, we all know that well in our monastic communities. Gathering around the dying person and praying for that individual is a regular practice of monastic houses. To announce over the PA that a sister is going to be anointed will bring an instant crowd to that sister’s room—as has happened many times in the nine years that I have been here. It amazes me how quickly people congregate. In those moments I like to think of today’s gospel, "When Jesus saw their faith," we trust that Jesus "heals" that person into heaven.

5. But we also pray for those who seem hopeless—maybe like today’s paralytic---who have given up on faith. How many of us know some member or members of our family who have fallen away from the practice of faith. We can be sorry for them, but we don’t stop praying for that person. We trust that the strength of our prayer will help our relative. We trust that Jesus, seeing our faith, might heal that person into heaven. That’s a very important part of our Catholic belief in the communion of saints. Let’s take a moment right now and each of us pray for just such a member of our own families.

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