Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Oct. 11, 2009

Readings: Wis 7:7-11; Heb 4:12-13; Mk 10:17-30

The latest document from the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life is entitled, "The Service of Authority and Obedience" (2008). I have to admit that there was a time when any statement from the Vatican with either of those words in the title used to immediately create a knot in my stomach. There was a little one when I started to read this document. But about a third of the way through I found myself saying, "This isn’t bad at all." By the time I got halfway, I was saying, "This is really good."

The first major section of the document is a reflection on obedience as listening; listening to the Word of God and the word of the Church is for all Christians. For those in consecrated life listening includes a further listening to the Rule and the charism of the community, to the community itself and to the voice of the superior. In one very insightful section the Instruction notes: "Obedience is the only way human persons, intelligent and free beings, can have the disposition to fulfill themselves." (#5) In other words, obedience is not a deterrent to self-fulfillment, but rather establishes the parameters for self-fulfillment. Obedience is a reminder that no matter what goals we have for ourselves, they are always going to be limited by this finite and fallible world we live in. I may desire with all my might to become a major league baseball player. But if I can’t hit a ninety mile an hour fastball, it’s not going to happen. One of my favorite sayings is from Pope Alexander VI, who tried hard to instill some changes in the early 16th century Catholic Church, but was always thwarted by the mechanism of the Vatican. On his tomb he wanted these words etched: "The efforts of the best individuals remain subject to the age in which they live." Obedience reminds us that there are always parameters in our world.

The document notes that it is also the responsibility of the community’s superiors to listen: to listen to the Church, to the scriptures, to the community charism and to the community members. The second and largest section of the document describes the responsibilities of the community’s superiors and is a virtual handbook on how to be a superior today. I want to give you some of the titles of this section. a) In consecrated life authority is first of all a spiritual authority. b) Persons in authority are called to guarantee the time for and the quality of prayer. c) Persons in authority are called to promote the dignity of the person. d) Persons in authority are called to inspire courage and hope in the midst of difficulties. e) Persons in authority are called to keep the charism of their own religious family alive. The major lens for viewing authority is that it is an authority of service to the community and requires that the superiors have "confidence in the responsibility of the brothers or sisters. (# 14)

The document describes beautifully at length the superior’s responsibility to listen. "The exercise of authority implies that persons in authority should gladly listen to those who have been entrusted to them. Listening is one of the principal ministries of superiors for which they should always be available. Persons in authority will have to be concerned with creating an environment of trust, promoting the recognition of the abilities and sensitivities of individuals, and of creating an atmosphere favorable to dialogue, sharing and co-responsibility." (# 20)

The last section of the document deals with hard cases of obedience, and it deals with them very sensitively. All in all it’s a very worthwhile document and the first section on Obedience as Listening would be excellent for Lectio Divina.

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