Sunday, July 12, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Last week I was visiting some friends of mine from St. Pius X parish. They were both so excited and enthusiastic about a bible study program they were taking at the parish. Tom said that for the first time in forty years he was beginning to have some understanding of what the bible is all about. For years he would go to church on Sunday, hear the readings, and not have the slightest idea what they meant. He was beginning to see that there is a progressive idea of salvation that runs throughout the Old and New Testaments. But he realizes that this is only a foot in the door; he and Jayne have much farther to go in their understanding and they look forward to continuing study.

One of the problems in understanding the readings at mass is the challenge of chronology. There’s a tendency to think that the three Sunday readings are in proper chronological progression. But that’s not always the case. Today’s readings are a good example. Amos is certainly the first in time. But the section from Ephesians is actually much later than the gospel passage. The core of the gospel passage—at least in its content (Jesus sending the disciples)---probably goes back to the time of Jesus (ca. 30-33), while the letter to the Ephesians comes seemingly from the last part of the first century and may be fifty years later than the gospel.

Knowing that, you can better appreciate the progression of thought in both passages. In the gospel passage Jesus sends out the Twelve (his inner core of disciples) to "preach repentance." We know that’s step one of Jesus’ overall message; the second step is to believe the good news of the Kingdom of God. That’s probably about as far as Jesus’ message went in his historical ministry. But after the Resurrection and all that the disciples came to believe about him, the vision of Jesus’ followers expanded immensely. The Ephesians passage shows that. They began to think in cosmic, universal terms dealing with God’s plan for all creation, that centers in Jesus’ death and resurrection. They were sure that they have been redeemed by a loving God who has blessed us and adopted us from the beginning of time and will bring all things to a glorious resolution.

One of the aspects of this vision of universal redemption is the great hope and confidence the first generations of Christian believers possessed. Their faith was their hope; it was the sense that they are "going somewhere." They were heading toward a reunion with the Mystery of God. We live today in a society that is going through a great crisis of confidence. Many people are not sure that their lives are on the way to anything meaningful or significant. The economic crisis, the uncertainty of international relations, the seeming inability of the government to effect any significant change, the sense of loss as the quality of life sinks lower----all this contributes to a "crisis of confidence" in our society. Believe me! It’s there and it affects young and old alike.

Ironically, and seemingly out of the mainstream of society, we monastics can be examples of a confidence in the future. Because our lives, as laid out in the Rule, are about living and working in community with one eye on our future meeting with Christ. We should show that in many different ways. Fr. Jeremy Driscoll says that one of the simple ways we show it is in our many processions. "I’m glad for all this marching about. I am reminded again and again that I am not just vaguely moving through life. I am inserted into the definite process of Christ. I am part of a huge story, a definite exodus. I am going somewhere." (A Monk’s Alphabet, p. 93) Let’s remember that about ourselves and what it should signify about our basic confidence the next time we have a procession. We are moving along in God’s eternal plan.

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