Sunday, November 8, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kgs 17:10-16; Heb 9:24-28; Mk 12:41-44

The main subjects of today’s first reading and gospel passage are poor widows. That may seem an unusual subject to reflect on, but perhaps this is a timely moment to do it. Poverty is becoming a huge subject in our national consciousness now. Especially as more and more Americans slip toward the poverty level, and a great number of those are poor widows. It’s possible that we are at a great turning point in our country’s history. The ample prosperity we enjoyed in the late 1980s, the 1990s, and the first half of the present decade may be gone forever for several future generations of Americans. A front page article in last Tuesday’s Indianapolis Star noted that half of all American children are now growing up on food stamps. That’s not likely to change soon and it will have huge social consequences in coming years. Coping with poverty or even a significant downsizing of life is becoming a major challenge for many people.

I’m sure all of us know individuals whose lives have been drastically affected by the financial downturn in our national economy. A lot of people are no longer able to live by the standards they had become accustomed to. That’s a critical moment for them. And we need to help people work through that moment by means of a religious perspective. Because, on the one hand, lowering one’s standard of living could very easily lead to discouragement, depression or to anger and rage. Sadly, we’ve seen too many examples of that lately. But, on the other hand, it could become a very positive reorganization of one’s life around new goals and that’s where a religious faith can help.

I think one of the keys here is learning to appreciate simple joys, the kinds of things we usually pass by as we seek after ever more grandiose thrills. We have to truly revisit and take up again the words of Jesus: "Consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field." Maybe we can’t take that trip to Florida anymore or even that weekend at King’s Island, but we can learn what joys there can be in a hike at Eagle Creek Park or a visit to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Somewhere along the way we might even discover that appreciating the simple joys brings even deeper fulfillment than the grandiose thrills. I remember a young couple I knew who both had excellent jobs; they had put off having children because they wanted to travel and do things. Then unexpectedly she got pregnant. After their child was about a year old, the husband told me: "I can’t believe the joy there is in getting down on the floor and just watching your child crawl around. It’s better than any of the trips we took." He was learning to appreciate the simple joys of life.

If we are going to help people with the downsizing of their lives, we have to know what it entails. Ironically we should have an inbuilt process for that, because as consecrated men and women we take a vow of poverty. But I think sometimes we go about understanding poverty in too narrow a way. We think of it solely in terms of what we give up, what we have to do without. We can, however, also think of poverty positively: as learning to appreciate the simpler joys of life. The joy of a beautiful autumn day, a shared friendship, a glass of wine (moderately priced, of course), a walk outdoors with an elderly parent—appreciated in the right way these all can be expressions of our vow of poverty. Learning and appreciating those simple pleasures might help us to genuinely minister to people who are struggling with the downsizing of their lives. It’s going to be an issue for years to come. The poor widow of today’s gospel is still with us many times over.

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