Monday, March 30, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent

1. The last topic we need to explore in this Lenten series on the effects of the sacrament of Baptism is how Baptism makes us sharers in the servant ministry of Jesus Christ. The actual image is of Christ fulfiling the Old testament offices of Priest, Prophet and King. We have looked at Priest and Prophet, but King seems to be more problematic. Until we remember that the function of the King of Israel was to be a servant of the people, to help the people in their obedience to and journey to their God. To speak of King is to speak of a servant-minister and it's that aspect that Jesus embodies. Again we turn to the Second Vatican Council to hear the Church's teaching: "The lay apostolate is a participation in the salvific ministry of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord himself." (L.G. # 33) And in the years since the council this vision has been grasped by many individuals in the Church's pastoral associates, directors of religious ed, catechists, youth ministers, and the list goes on.

2. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council we have seen an incredible growth in the number of people who are partaking in the ministries of the Church. And I think there is ample evidence that many of these people have found their ministry and spirituality well fulfilled in their ministering. A recent example is an article in America magazine by a Mary Foley. She has served as a Parish Life Coordinator in several dioceses. She writes: "This has been a ministry full of joy and one in which I felt most fully alive. In a word, it is a ministry for which I was made. Pastoring is my vocation. I deeply love my church and I am thankful for every ministry opportunity I have had." (March 9, 2009, p. 12) The same themes appeared in another collection of ministry accounts: Why We Serve. They give a lot of different reasons for the motives that urged them to this work of ministry: wanting to serve, wanting to help people on their spiritual journeys, etc. But I didn't find many mentions of today's topic: wanting to share in the servant ministry of Jesus. I think they are missing out on something here. Just think of how powerful an invitation and meaning it was for generations of priests to know and feel that they were sharing in the priesthood of Christ. That same powerful invitation and meaning should be there for any Christian minister: they are sharing in the servant-ministry of Jesus. What exactly is that?

3. The patterns of Jesus' ministry provide a guide for the ministry of Christians. First of all, notice Jesus' great concern for human suffering. How many Gospel stories capture the immediate attentiveness Jesus gives to people who are blind, lame, crippled, emotionally disturbed, epileptic, hemorrhaging, deaf or the grieving (widow of Naim). Jesus deals personally with each suffering individual. Embedded in these stories is the fact that Jesus participates in the suffering of people. His concern was so powerful that he identified with and shared in the suffering being endured. Reading Jesus-stories of healings, a principle emerges: the kindness and understanding of Jesus towards those whose pain was profound. That example is a mandate to all his followers: Recognize human suffering! See it, respond to it; realize it as a dominant fact in people's lives and their relationship with God. Jesus' ministry is a response to the suffering of this world.

4. Whenever any of us respond to the needs of someone who is suffering in any way we are sharing in the servant-ministry of Jesus. A teacher helping a teenager struggling with life choices, a therapist assisting an aged woman suffering with arthritis, a nurse comforting a suffering patients they should see themselves sharing in the servant-ministry of Jesus. They need to know and feel that. Let's all pray now for an increase in such an awareness.

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