Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time - June 20, 2010

Readings: Zech 12:10-11; Gal 3:26-29; Lk 9:18-24

The words of Jesus are very direct: "All those who wish to come after me, must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me." How strange and how foreign Jesus’ words must seem to most American ears. After all, our culture isn’t very much disposed to deny anything to ourselves; instead, we are taught to be users, consumers, to indulge ourselves as much as possible. That’s the American way. Most of us don’t wake up in the morning and try to figure out how we can deny ourselves something today; no, we wonder what we are going to enjoy today. Similarly, I doubt that many of us get up and wonder what kind of cross we can take upon ourselves today. No, I suspect that Jesus’ words must seem quite strange to most Americans.

Yet here we are---gathered as a group of Americans who call ourselves followers of Jesus, who call ourselves Christians! After all, that should be why we are here in church. If we are honest about that name of ‘Christian,’ then we should try and seriously investigate what these words of Jesus mean for us. What does it mean to regularly "deny something to ourselves?" and how "do we take up the cross daily?" Those should be serious questions we ask ourselves, and maybe they should be something we think about in the morning as we are planning our day. I would suggest, however, that we might think about these words more fruitfully by putting them in a positive, rather than negative form.

Instead of thinking about what we can deny to ourselves, let’s think about what kind of good deed or favor we can do for someone else. Maybe for a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or a co-worker. Something we can do to make their life a little easier, more pleasant or enjoyable. In the process of doing that, it’s likely we will deny something to ourselves—energy, time or money. To think about doing some kind act or favor for someone else is the way that Jesus wants us to think regularly. That’s his teaching—think about someone else’s needs and life. That’s why, when I hear confessions at parish penance services, I like to give as a penance, "Do a kind act for some member of your family." That’s what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel: think about someone else and the good you can do for them. That’s Christian behavior.

And instead of thinking about "taking up the cross," let’s think about "taking responsibility" and "living up to our commitments." Taking responsibility for one’s life and character, making commitments to others and keeping them—that’s all a form of taking up the cross. And again that flies in the face of much of what we learn from our culture. We are taught: keep your options open; something better may always come along. Fr. Gavin Barnes, one of my fellow monks, was for many years the director of the annual school play at St. Meinrad College. Twenty years ago he announced he was giving it up; there would be no more plays. The reason? He couldn’t get the college students, who had signed up for the play, to show up for practices. They would say, "Yes, Wednesday is a good night to practice." But when Wednesday night came, there was always someone who didn’t show up because he got a "better offer"—to go to a movie, to go to dinner, to go shopping. To make commitments and to keep them is a version of "taking up the cross."

So, if we transfer Jesus’ words into a positive form, they would be something like this: "All those who wish to come after me should start thinking about and responding to the needs of others; they should make commitments to others and honor them, and then they will follow me." That makes the words of Jesus easier to understand, but it doesn’t make it any easier to put them into practice. We still need to find the courage to put aside our own wants, desires and satisfactions for the sake of others. That requires a lot of courage and character. But here we are in church on a Sunday because we call ourselves followers of Jesus. We should consider carefully his teaching.

1 comment:

Jill Maria Murdy said...

Hi Nicolette... so fun to see a picture of Matthias..... haven't seen him in goodness don't know how many years!

Blessings to all my Benedictine friends...

Jill Maria