Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 35:4-7; James 2:1-5; Mk 7:31-37

The three readings we heard today present quite a diversity of messages. The first, from the prophet Isaiah, is given to the people of Israel when they are gravely threatened by foreign oppressors. The message is, "Just hang on and God will relieve you....somehow, sometime." The gospel passage from Mark tells the story of a deaf and mute man who is cured and is made to hear and speak right now. The mood is of great rejoicing. The middle reading from the letter of James instructs the recipients not to make distinctions in the way they treat people. They should remember that the gospel is for the poor. It’s not easy to meld these three readings into a unified message.

But then we shouldn’t have to. The readings speak to the different life settings of people who come to participate in the Eucharist. Isaiah’s reading speaks to those who are grieving. I recall years ago when I was still studying to be a priest, a speaker on homiletics come to address all the seminarians. He told us we should always remember that when we give a homily on Sunday approximately ten percent of our congregation will be dealing with some great loss in their lives (a loved one, their job, or their health). They are grieving. They need to hear that message, "Just hang on." The same is true of the gospel reading. There are some people who will come to church because they have been cured or delivered in some way. For example, a woman who just got the test results that her tumor is not cancerous. She comes to mass to say, "thank you, thank you, thank you." The gospel story speaks directly to her. And there are others who come to mass to be instructed, to be taught in their Christian faith. They hear the letter of James as advice to put into practice.

What all this tells us is that the Eucharist is a wonderfully rich experience, able to touch all sorts of people in many kinds of life-settings. The Eucharistic celebration is rejoicing, encouraging, instructing, and consoling all at the same time. No wonder it has no equal as the central action of our Catholic Christian faith.

But there’s another dimension to the Eucharist that we haven’t touched on yet. The Eucharist may be wonderfully diverse in its ability to touch all sorts of people, but we, as people, have to come to the Eucharist prepared to engage it. We have to come desirous of participating in it. That’s not easy for us in our modern culture. Our modern media have trained us to want to be entertained, to be amused. Whether it’s a movie, a musical concert, a TV show, or whatever, almost instinctively we come and say, "Entertain me." If we come to the Eucharist with that attitude, the whole experience will fail miserably. No, we have to come bringing ourselves as a spiritual sacrifice, offering who we are in our lives right now to God.

The three readings in today’s Eucharist speak to those who are mourners, to others who are seekers, and to still others who are thankers. We have to prepare ourselves to engage in this sacred ritual. As the Second Vatican Council in its Constitution on the Liturgy said so clearly: "Mother Church desires that all the faithful should be led to that full, conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy." (#14) Let’s take some time now to reflect on "how" we are bringing ourselves, the sacrifice of our lives, to participate in this Eucharist!

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