Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Prov 9:1-6; Eph 5:15-20; Jn 6:51-58

I’m currently listening to one of the Teaching Company programs, entitled "A History of Byzantium." The program is taught by Prof. Kenneth Harl of Tulane University. I always have to chuckle whenever I hear his description of the Norman knights who traveled east on the First Crusade in 1096. He said they "were deeply devoted to Christ. Little shaky on the ten commandments, but deeply devoted to Christ." I was reminded of this when I read through the readings we have just heard. The gospel is about receiving the bread of life, the central ritual of the Catholic Church; the second reading from the Ephesians letter is a great exhortation to live a good moral life..."watch carefully how you live...don’t get drunk, etc." These two readings reflect the moral and the ritual side of a total faith and both of them are based on still another element, that of beliefs. We receive the living bread because we first believe it is the living bread. And we live a good moral life because we first believe that Jesus taught us to do so and gave us his life as an example.

Now bear with me because I’m going to do a little abstract analysis. Belief—morality—ritual, they are three separate but interlocking aspects of a complete faith. In a good, healthy faith expression all three should be present and each interacting with the other two. But all too often one or two of them gets skewed or a bit off-track. Like the Norman knights...they were strong in their belief in Jesus Christ, but pretty weak in their morality. But I think we are all like that at times. The chances are good that at some time or another in our lives we find ourselves weak and teetering in one area or another. We may struggle with understanding a particular belief, like the virginal conception. Or we find that we can’t pray and all the rituals, even the mass, seem empty. Or we struggle with some aspect of morality, maybe finding it impossible to forgive someone who has offended us. We all find ourselves in situations like these; they are human situations that simply show our mortal natures.

I did this three-way analysis for a reason. It so often happens that when we struggle in one area, the easy temptation is to see that area as our whole faith. Over my forty years as a spiritual director I’ve seen people do that many times. A person struggles with a particular belief, e.g. the Immaculate Conception, and they immediately jump to: "I’m losing my faith." I ask: "Do you still try to be an honest and loving person?" They usually answer, yes. I ask: "Do you still attend mass regularly?" They usually answer, yes. The reason they came to see me in the first place is because they are conscientious individuals. I try to help them see that they aren’t "losing their faith." They are struggling with one aspect of it, yes, but there’s a lot of a total faith they still possess. The most immediate thing is to help them strengthen those areas of faith they are still strong in. And then they can deal as best they can with the area and issue they are struggling with.

The key virtue here is being patient with oneself. We don’t live in a very patient society or culture. We want results NOW. And if we don’t get them now, we tend to throw the whole thing away. Living a faith honestly and well requires patience, patience with others and, above all, patience with ourselves over a lifetime. I think the best thing we can do at this Eucharist is to take a few moments of quiet and ask and pray for the gift of patience with ourselves when we find ourselves struggling with some area of faith.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Once again, good food for thought! Thanks for posting Fr. Matthias' homilies... I get so much out of them!


Jennifer V.