Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 5:27-41; Rev. 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-14

I’ve always been struck by a couple of the sentences in today’s gospel passage. The first is: "I’m going fishing." And the second is: "Come, have some breakfast." They have always seemed to me to be too ordinary, not dignified enough for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But the more you look at it, the more examples of ordinariness show through the scriptures. That contradicts the assumption a lot of people have that whatever is religious has to be special and exceptional! If something is religious, you put lighted candles around it, burn incense, bow a lot and speak only in hushed tones. "I’m going fishing" and "Come, have some breakfast" just doesn’t fit in that model.

The longer you consider the dynamics in this gospel passage, the more an important conviction emerges: that it is precisely from within the ordinary that the extra-ordinary appears. While fishing, the disciples come to recognize Jesus, and in sharing breakfast they come to recognize the Lord. The extra-ordinary appears in the ordinary. That happens only if you truly appreciate the ordinary. It is in appreciating the ordinary and the everyday that you allow the Mysterious, the extraordinary, to break through.

Jewish mystical spirituality has always recognized this principle in a profound way. A central theme of that spirituality is that "gateways" or entrances to the Holy exist everywhere in this ordinary world. To be truly "spiritual" means to be finely attuned to them. One book that expresses that beautifully is Lawrence Kushner’s Honey from the Rock, one of my all-time favorite spirituality books. Let me read you a few sections: "Entrances to holiness are everywhere. The possibility of ascent is all the time. Even at unlikely times and through unlikely places. There is no place on earth without the Presence. Jacob, our father, was on the run. With only a rock for a pillow. In what he thought was some God-forsaken wilderness. Until he had the dream. He said: ‘Surely the Holy One himself must have been in this place and I didn’t even know it!’ And then he was afraid. He said: ‘How awesome is this place. This is none other than God’s house and here I am at the very gateway to heaven.’ In another place we read of how the Holy One chose a common insignificant thorn bush. As if to teach us that nothing is beneath being a gateway to the Most High. He could have summoned mountains or oceans or the heavens themselves. But instead he opened a thorn bush. ‘Moses looked and behold the bush was on fire but the bush was not consumed.’ In a wilderness. Through a bush. Nothing is beneath the dignity of being selected as an entrance. ‘Remove your shoes from your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’" (pp. 48-49) Indeed, entrances to holiness are everywhere.

The Second Vatican Council expressed similar views in many of its documents. In its Constitution on the Church it mentions the many gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed on all believers in the Church. "Some of these charisms are very remarkable; others are more simple and ordinary. But they are all fitting and useful for building up the Church." (#12) In the section on the Universal Call to Holiness the Constitution notes that this call to holiness stretches all the way to those who are weighed down by poverty, infirmity and sickness. (#41) Even there God’s Spirit is working in these most weighted of human conditions. "Entrances to holiness are everywhere." An essential part of a good Christian spirituality is appreciating the ordinary, so that we allow the extra-ordinary, the Mysterious, the Presence of God to emerge from within.

In this Sunday Eucharist let’s pray that this very day we might be able to perceive the extraordinary in the ordinary, to see holiness in the midst of ordinary life. It happens today.

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