Monday, October 26, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Oct. 25, 2009

Readings: Jer 31:7-9; Heb 5:1-6; Mark 10:46-52

This homily is the last of my series on the theology of consecrated life in recent Vatican documents. For the great majority of items in these documents that I’ve been exploring, you can honestly say, "We are doing all that." But there are some issues that will challenge and push some communities to sharpen their understanding and practice. We want to look at some of those today. I think it helps if you see all of these points as efforts to apply teachings of the Second Vatican Council to communities of consecrated life. They won’t appear new to us because we have been doing them for over twenty-five years, but they are new to official church teaching about consecrated life.

The first is the theme of the "community charism." Vatican II in its decree, Perfectae Caritatis, instructed all such communities to re-discover the primitive inspiration of the community and its development in history. (#2) The Congregation would like to see that communities have done that. Most Benedictine houses, federations and congregations have been doing that for thirty years. An added piece, however, is making sure that the various components of the community charism are attended to in the formation programs, both initial and ongoing.

That brings us to the second theme, formation programs, and specifically "ongoing formation." Again, this begins from Vatican II’s more historical and developmental view of persons and communities as seen in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. The Vatican documents really incorporate some good psychological and sociological information in conjunction with this point. Our ongoing formation program at St. Meinrad really didn’t get started until the mid 1980s. Up until that time what a person got after final vows was pretty meager. The abbot was supposed to give us a spiritual conference two or three times a year, and that was it. In the fifteen plus years that I was in that situation, I only remember one abbot’s conference. Abbot Gabriel Verkamp came in one time and began by quoting chapter 16 of Jeremiah, in which Jeremiah complains about all the "filthy things" going on among the people of Israel. Then the abbot said, "There are filthy things going on in this monastery." All our ears pricked up—something juicy was coming. Then he urged us to conversion, to give up all the "filthy things" that were going on in the monastery. Unfortunately, he never specified what "filthy things" he was referring to. We all left the conference disappointed.

The third theme is "relations with the laity." Before Vatican II a good monk or sister was to basically avoid them. But Vatican II defined a new place for the laity in the Church. They were endowed by God with charisms of their own. (LG ##30-38) These Vatican documents encourage openly many positive interactions between members of consecrated communities and the Catholic laity, and they express this beautifully: "Appropriate contact between the values characteristic of the lay vocation, such as a more concrete perception of the life of the world, of culture, politics, economics, etc., and the values characteristic of religious life, such as the radical following of Christ...can become a fruitful exchange of gifts between the lay faithful and religious communities." They also call us to offer the laity a sharing in the spiritual charism of our community. You have your Oblate program and are in good stead in that regard.

The last theme is "ecumenical relationships." Vatican II was a new beginning in relations with other Christian churches. Communities of consecrated life are called to be a part of that in prayer and activities. In reading all these pages the one passage that jolted me the most was this: "The Synod on Consecrated Life highlighted the close connection between the consecrated life and ecumenism. .... There is an urgent need for consecrated persons to give more space in their lives to ecumenical prayer and genuine evangelical witness. No Institute of Consecrated Life should feel itself dispensed from working for this cause." Again with your Women Touched by Grace program you are in good shape.

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