Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 5th Week of Easter

Readings: Acts 14:21-27; Rev 21:1-5; John 13:31-35

The second reading we heard this morning was from the Book of Revelation, specifically from the last three chapters which form a kind of conclusion to the whole New Testament. The words, "Behold, I make all things new," serve as a clarion call to open one’s vision and life to a future which will be shaped by a loving God. Here we have the full meaning of what Jesus’ Resurrection is all about. It’s a message of boundless hope and confidence for our human future.

But if we stop, think a moment, put our feet on the ground, we realize that’s only half of the Christian message. Before the resurrection there comes passion and death. Just as this reading from Revelation is preceded by persecution and suffering We can’t lose sight of those. The two poles of Christian faith are brokenness and Resurrection. How much of the Bible deals with human brokenness: Adam and Eve cast out of the garden, and Cain killing his brother, Abel—these just get the ball rolling, to be followed by Abraham and Sarah, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Job, etc. etc. right down to the passion and death of Jesus. But the ball of brokenness doesn’t stop rolling there; it continues right down into our own lives. That’s so evident when you go to visit the Hermitage, where human brokenness is present everywhere. But we needn’t go that far; the ball of brokenness rolls right through our own lives. Yet for each turn of that ball the Christian message cries out in the words of the Book of Revelation:"God will wipe every tear from our eyes." That’s the encouraging vision of Christian faith.

One of the great challenges of Christian faith is balancing brokenness and Resurrection, and a difficult balancing act it is. The scale can tip too far in either direction. It can tip too far on the side of brokenness. In that case the sufferings, pains, disappointments and failures of life tend to overwhelm us and the hope of Resurrection almost completely disappears. Lives begin to be lived in despair, discouragement and anger. There’s way too much of that these days. The scale can also tip too far on the side of Resurrection. That begins when people start to take the future totally in their own hands. They think: "The Kingdom of God will come sooner if we force it to happen." That leads to crusades, holy wars, forced conversions and persecutions. It can happen to any religion and has very often in the cases of both Christianity and Islam.

But for most ordinary people the scale doesn’t tip that far in either direction, but it definitely does list toward one or the other side. That creates the difference between people who are basically pessimistic or optimistic within their Christian faith. One of the things that occurred in the Catholic Church as a result of the Second Vatican council was a general shift from the pessimistic side to the optimistic side. When I was growing up, the great liturgical feast was Good Friday. The death of Jesus Christ saved us from our sins. But it also reminded us that life is difficult, that we are continually beset with grief and temptations. Our general religious mood was to be one of wariness, watching out for the dangers of sin. In a countermove the Council firmly placed Easter and Resurrection at the center of the Catholic vision. The halcyon cry of those years was: "We are an Easter people," people of hope who live openly by the Spirit. The scale had shifted in terms of general Church attitude, but we still find people in the Church who locate themselves more easily on one side or the other. It will always be that way.

In this Easter season it’s good for each of us to check where we are on the scale of brokenness and Resurrection. We are called by our faith to be a Resurrection people, but also never to lose sight of the brokenness of life. Let’s examine how we keep them in balance. How do we balance the pains and disappointments of life with the hope of a future completely reshaped by a loving God? Every Easter season asks us to explore this issue in our lives!

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