Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 3rd Week of Advent

3rd Sunday of Advent - Dec. 13, 2009

Readings: Zeph 3:14-18; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18

In the pre-Vatican II years this Sunday was always known as Gaudete Sunday—Rejoice Sunday, from the opening Antiphon at Mass (Gaudete in Domino semper; iterum dico gaudete. Rejoice always in the Lord; again I say, Rejoice). This Sunday has a very special meaning for me, but I have to give you a little background to explain. In 1966 we at St. Meinrad were just beginning to make some of the liturgical changes that had been mandated by the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy. It was a traumatic time for many in the community. One of those changes was that much more attention needed to be given to the homily at mass. The monastery liturgy committee decided that we would have a homily every Sunday and on several days of the week, depending on the feast days that week. This was a daunting task for many of the priests and they did everything they could to get out of it. I, on the other hand, in 1966 was a newly ordained deacon and just chomping at the bit to preach. (It was the brashness of youth.) I ended up preaching quite often, because many of the priests who didn’t want to asked me to be deacon for them. One of those Sundays was Gaudete Sunday, 1966. It was the occasion of the homily that caused me to be banned from any further preaching in Abbey Church.

What did I say that caused me to be banned? I suggested that expressing joy is a more fundamental attitude in Christian life than bearing suffering. (After all, it is through the suffering of the cross that we come to the joy of Resurrection.) That was way too much for some of the older fathers to take. That gives you some idea of how far the Catholic Church has come in the last forty years. To say that expressing joy is more than bearing suffering would hardly raise an eye brow today. Forty years ago that statement was an occasion of scandal. Back then the necessity of suffering was deeply engrained in the Catholic consciousness. One vignette says it all. I was standing in line in the duplicating room at St. Meinrad waiting my turn for the Xerox machine, which in 1971 was the wonder of the age. One of our older fathers was in line ahead of me. He turned around and asked if I was doing something for a class. I said, "No, it’s for a program that I’m doing at St. Joseph’s parish in Jasper." He looked at me sternly and said, "Tell them to suffer. And if they won’t suffer by themselves, then you make them suffer." It’s a much different Catholic mood forty years later.

Or is it? While we often give lip service to joy and rejoicing, how often do we really express open and unrestrained joy? When we rejoice, do we let our hearts go openly and completely? Or do we say, "Well, a little, but not too much." We still almost instinctively hold back from committing ourselves too completely to anything. I don’t think there’s much doubt that the prophet Zephaniah was calling for full and unrestrained joy when he wrote: "Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!"

The fact of the matter is that we are all still learning to be joyful people, people of Resurrection joy. As we look forward to joyfully celebrate the birth of Christ, let’s make sure it’s a step in the right direction, a step towards learning and expressing a complete joy of our heart for what God has done for us.

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