Sunday, March 7, 2010

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

Readings: Ex 3:1-15; 1 Cor 10:1-12; Lk 13:1-9

Moses before the burning bush is one of the great revelatory events of religious history for both Christians and Jews. This moment will lead to the revelation of God's "personal name," a disclosure that created a special covenant between God and all those who accept and believe in that Name. Yet, as momentous as was the revealing of God's name, a complementary, though lesser known, aspect of that passage deserves equal consideration. Moses received the marvelous revelation precisely because he was open to it, because his basic attitude allowed him to respond fully to the divine invitation. The text says: "When the Lord saw him coming over to look at it more closely..." The wonder and awe of Moses let him be attracted to and then captured by the strange phenomenon of a burning bush not consumed by fire. This Mosaic attitude of astonishment and surprise is the advance preparation which enables God's revelation to be fully received.

The Jewish writer Abraham Joshua Heschel describes this attitude well: "To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all things, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living, It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live." (Quest for God, p. 5) Notice his point: to truly wonder in amazement is to pray. The fullness of Christian faith requires a preparation built on an openness to wonder, an attitude which revels in amazement. We should also note more precisely what this attitude of wonder entails in the story of Moses! First of all, it implies a fundamental openness of awareness and perception, a capacity to be surprised. Moses sees the wonder and immediately approaches to examine it more closely: "I must go over to look at this remarkable sight." Secondly, this attitude of wonder involves a receptivity that allows ourselves to be touched and captured by the marvel, taking it in and letting it change us. Wonder describes a total attitude of life that recognizes a marvelous dimension to all existence, delights in it and is open to its re-creative power. Wonder lies at the base of full faith and ever remains part of it.

These thoughts are extremely important for us because our American culture has become severely diminished in its reveling at marvels; instead it promotes suspicion, criticism and defensiveness as fundamental human attitudes. The public media expose too many scandals: politicians who break the law, clergy who satisfy their own desires for power or sex, business leaders who ignore public safety to increase profit margins. Many common people no longer expect much good to come from public institutions or public officials (they all cut corners for their own benefit). If we hear an advertisement say, "All we want to do is serve you," an immediate skepticism kicks in, "Yeah, right!" We Americans are rapidly losing a sense of wonder. We are no longer prepared to be surprised by anyone or anything . . . even by God’s revelation. No wonder religious faith is eroding quickly in this cultural atmosphere.

The capacity to see a burning bush (or a child, or bread and wine, or a simple act of love) and be astonished by it is a necessary foundation for a sound spiritual life. The renewal of a sense of wonder stands as a major spiritual task for all the Christian churches. We can begin by asking ourselves: where is the wonder in my life? I’d like to offer just one little suggestion. (It’s a heightened feeling I get in this Lenten season from hearing so many confessions at parish reconciliation services.) Let’s try to give a little more attention to having a sense of wonder at the small marvels that occur in people’s relationships and actions. We can easily think of the wonders of nature. Less easily do we bring to mind the teenager who really works to control a drug habit, the husband and wife who recommit their relationship to each other, the man or woman who chooses to care for an elderly relative. These also are marvels that can amaze and surprise us. Like Moses we should look at these as remarkable sights, and then we might hear the Lord’s voice whisper to us: "you are approaching holy ground."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sister Nicolette,
Thank you for posting Father Matthias' homily. Words that were whispered and wonderment jump from his writings loud and clear to me.