Sunday, July 25, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen 18:20-32; Col 2:12-14; Lk 11:1-13

I would suspect that one of the most repeated lines among Christian believers occurs in today’s gospel passage: "Lord, teach us to pray." Even we, men and women Benedictines in a consecrated way of life dedicated to prayer and work, we can so often say or think: "Lord, teach me to pray." Prayer has been a topic of intense interest among all Christian believers through the centuries. When I checked last week there were over 1750 books on prayer in the St. Meinrad Archabbey Library. It seems that we can’t get enough on prayer....although what we do get....never seems to satisfy.

That interest continues unabated right up to the present. Just this past week I received a copy of Explore, a quarterly periodical published by the University of Santa Clara in California. The whole issue is devoted to the topic of "Why Pray?" They asked several of their administrators and faculty to write short essays on the topic, "Why I Pray." Several of them are quite moving. Let me read you some passages from the contribution of Agnieska Winkler, one of the trustees of the university. "I pray because prayer connects me. Prayer connects me to the source of life, to the beginning and the end and everything in the middle. ... I pray out of a profound sense of gratitude—gratitude for a rich life of many blessings. ... I pray for others who may have not been so blessed. ... I pray because prayer brings me peace. ... I pray because it helps me be more generous. ... I pray for forgiveness. ... I pray for wisdom to make better decisions in both my personal and professional lives." (pp. 18-19)

But the essays don’t address the topic of how one prays. One writing on prayer that addresses that question directly is Urban Holmes III’s book, Spirituality for Ministry (1982). Urban Holmes was an Episcopal priest and theologian who was, in my judgment, one of the most perceptive writers on spirituality, ministry and pastoral theology in all the Christian churches. Tragically, he died at the age of 51 from a massive heart attack. His opening chapter of this book tries to detail what it means to be a "spiritual person." He defines spirituality as a particular type of relationship, a relationship that is open to transcendence, but within a community. A spiritual person is one who is open to accepting the reality and action of God in our world and who shares that in relationships with other people.

In his view prayer and spirituality are closely connected. Spirituality is the attitude lying behind prayer, and prayer is the open expression of spirituality. Holmes said it very well: "Prayer is an inner disposition toward the One who transcends all things, and prayer is the action this begets. We pray because we are spiritual beings. ... Prayer is the act of making whatever we do a cause for meeting and knowing God." (Pp. 19-20) The key here is recognizing that prayer is first of all a disposition of openness to One who is beyond, and not any specific action, like saying words or contemplating nature or playing some musical instrument. All of those things can be prayer, but the most important thing about prayer is that disposition of openness. And that can burst forth in a great variety of ways as the history of any major religious tradition shows.

When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he is in fact giving them the same kind of instructions.

"Father" - is an expression of openness to that Mystery which is beyond us

"hallowed be your name" - expresses the Holiness of the One who is beyond

"your Kingdom come" - I accept your providence and plan for my life and the world

"give us each day our daily bread" - You are the source of what we need and I am asking for this

"forgive us our sins" - I have failed and I ask pardon

"as we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us" - I need to be accepting of others’ failures

"do not subject us to the final test" - Don’t let us be tempted beyond our means

We can still say all these prayers. Let’s remember that as we pray this Eucharist.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen 18:1-10; Col 1:24-28; Luke 10:38-42

I want to go back two weekends ago to my eventful masses at St. Roch’s parish. On that Saturday I arrived for 4:00pm confessions at about 3:55pm. There had been a wedding at 2:30pm, but I was told they would be gone by the 4:00pm time for confessions. Alas, they were not. At 4:00pm they were just beginning to take pictures in the church. With a lot of little kids running around and yelling into the microphone, the whole interior of the church was a scene of loudness and chaos. There were flower petals scattered all over the floor. At 4:15 I reminded them that there was a mass at 5:00 and that people would begin arriving around 4:30pm. My words had no effect whatever. At 4:30pm they were still going full force with pictures when the lady sacristan arrived to set up for mass. She took one look in the church and said, "Oh, my God!" What followed in the next few minutes was something similar, I think, to Jesus cleansing the Temple of the moneychangers. Within five minutes they were all gone—people, photographic equipment and flower petals. And so we were able to start on time at 5:00pm. The lady sacristan definitely took a proactive, Martha-style approach to ministry.

Interestingly, many biblical scholars think that today’s story about Martha and Mary (at least in Luke’s version of the gospel) is not primarily about the value of contemplation over action, which is how it is often taken. Rather it’s about the necessity of integrating contemplation or spirituality into the context of doing ministry. The primacy that’s afforded to Mary in the story serves as a reminder that interior spirituality has to be the foundation that ministry goes back to for its renewing source and ongoing inspiration. The struggle to integrate spirituality and prayer into ministry is a struggle that we all, men and women ministers alike, must deal with. Without continually going back to the source of ministry in our relationship to Christ we can tend to make some distorted judgments. Martha’s problem is not that she is doing the ministry of serving; it’s that she blames someone else (her sister) for not being and doing the exact same thing as she does. And isn’t that true: we tend so often to criticize people because they don’t behave the exact same way that we do? Martha has lost the perspective that spirituality brings to ministry.

Maintaining that integration between spirituality and ministry becomes especially hard when the work of ministry gets tense or angry, is draining emotionally or just plain upsetting. In those times any attempt to pray or even think about spirituality seems limp. (We just want to deal with the problem.) I would suspect that the lady sacristan did not find it easy to fully participate in the Eucharist after throwing the wedding crowd out of church. She wasn’t angry, but she was definitely upset and that can serve to have the same confusing effect as open anger.

Even after it’s all over, it’s not easy to get a balance back again. That’s because by getting angry or upset, we can feel that we have "lessened ourselves." There’s a drop in self-esteem. But that’s what we need to guard against. The better tact would be to assess and learn from our episode of anger or upset. Because we may have been fully justified in our feelings. There are such things as a good anger and a good feeling of upset. The lady sacristan had every right to be upset. The same is true of just about every person working in ministry. There are times when you just have to take a deep breath and say, "Let’s do a little examination of this episode." And you know something.....I think Martha did! And I hope the lady sacristan did too.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sr. Mary Ann Koetter makes Perpetual Monastic Profession

On this beautiful Feast of St. Benedict, Sr. Mary Ann Koetter, celebrated her Perpetual Monastic Profession. Our Benedictine community is blessed for sure!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time - July 4, 2010

Readings: Is 66:10-14; Gal 6:14-18; Lk 10:1-9

It isn’t often that the 4th of July holiday falls on a Sunday, like it does this year. But this gives us a chance to reflect on the significance of the American Declaration of Independence for our Catholic Christian faith in the United States. That happens to be a major significance.

Most of the original American colonies were established in the 17th and 18th centuries by religious groups from Europe who wanted to find a place where they could practice their religion freely and openly. They wanted religious freedom—unfortunately, for most of them, they wanted religious freedom for themselves and no one else. There was a time in the early history of the American colonies where the only place one could legally attend a Catholic mass was the colony of Pennsylvania. That’s because Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn and the Quakers who did allow religious freedom to other groups. The colonial years in America were often difficult times for Catholics.

When our Founding Fathers decided to declare their independence from England, one of the freedoms they were asserting was the freedom of religious worship. A few years later, when the American Constitution was drawn up and accepted, it stated clearly that there would be no established religion in the newly-formed United States of America. People were free to worship publicly as they chose. That didn’t mean that Catholics and Protestants got along; most of the time they didn’t. Still July 4th and the Declaration of Independence was a great step forward for the Catholic Church in this country, and we should remember to be thankful for that as we celebrate this year.

One of the challenges that this situation of general religious freedom created was how these different faiths were going to relate to each other. That became a steamy history during the 19th and early 20th centuries. That century and a half was filled with a great deal of anti-Catholicism and anti-Protestantism in this country; some of it really got violent. It was still the case in 1960, just fifty years ago, that a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister would never appear on the same stage together.

Thankfully the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s began the dissolving of those bitter feelings. The Catholic Church made a strong effort to reach out and initiate a new attitude of mutual understanding and cooperation with other Christian churches. That was one of Pope John XXIII’s main reasons for calling the council in the first place. And that got written into many of the Council’s decrees. Listen to this passage from the Constitution on the Church: "The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, but do not profess the faith in its entirety. ... They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. ... They also share with us in prayer and other spiritual benefits, in some true union with the Holy Spirit." (L.G. #15) That was a 180 degree turn from the direction that the Church had been moving for hundreds of year. These were shocking statements for many Catholics in the 1960s. I remember when we read these documents in the monastic dining room during dinner, some older monks were so shocked they stopped eating. They were too stunned to go on. But this is the teaching of the Catholic Church, and we are still trying to learn how to live this out as good Catholics.

But the Council went on and spoke, not just about other Christians, but also about other faiths and even those who have no faith at all. "Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is God who gives to all people life and breath and all good things. They also can attain to salvation...." L.G. #16) This is important to remember because we now live in a country that has significant numbers from many other world religions. On this July 4th we celebrate our religious freedom; we should also celebrate God’s freedom in offering salvation to all people.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Jesus' July Message

Each month, Anne, a lay apostle, receives a message from Jesus. This is the message for July. To read more about the locutions Anne receives from Jesus and His Blessed Mother click on this link: Direction For Our Times.

My beloved apostles, I send many graces into the world through your commitment to Me. You do not see the graces but sometimes you see the effect of the graces. When you see the effect of the graces I send through you, rejoice. Thank Me. Your gratitude expressed to Me gives Me consolation. Also, your gratitude expressed to Me, gives you a disposition that is joyful. I want you to be joyful, dear apostles, because I am giving you so much. You are cooperating with Me and working hard, it is true, but you are also benefiting because My heart is so grateful to you for your fidelity that I hasten to answer your prayers, both for your loved ones and for the whole world. When a traveller goes a short distance, he can become a little tired. When a traveller goes a greater distance, he can become a little more tired. When a traveller travels a distance that stretches out for the remainder of his time on earth, as in your case, that traveller understands that fatigue will be his companion. This companionship should accomplish two things. One, it should provide a bond between the saved and the Saviour because I, too, experienced fatigue and I, too, devoted My life to the Kingdom. The other thing fatigue should provide for you is a compelling need to adapt your service to My pace which is a steady pace, as opposed to a hurried pace. I ask for steady service. I do not want hesitation in My service, no, but neither do I want irresponsible treatment of either your physical wellness or your spiritual wellness. If you are standing next to a well and do not drink, you will become dehydrated, regardless of your proximity to the well. Drink, dear apostles. Experience each day the grace that you are urging others to accept. I am with you and I feed you steadily. You have the grace for today. You will have to return to Me tomorrow to accept the grace for that day. I want My beloved apostles to be sustained and I offer them sustenance. Dear friends, all is well. You are working hard as I worked hard but you will be given all that you need. I am so grateful to you. I am so pleased with you. Believe Me when I say this. It is very important for the world that you accept My gratitude because if you do not accept My gratitude, truly, the world will not understand Me and the world will not understand service to Me. People must look at you and see that service to Me brings blessings. I am with you and My gratitude to you will be evident for eternity.