Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 17:8-13; 2 Tim 3:14-4:2; Lk 18:1-8

The great scientist, Albert Einstein, once said: "Science can tell us a great deal about the universe—how old it is, how vast it is, what laws of physics control it. But science is powerless to answer the most important question of all: is the universe a friendly (and happy) place, is it supportive of human hopes and desires?" (Harold Kushner, The Lord is My Shepherd, p. 7) For that, human beings must look elsewhere. And they have for ages, long before science came along. We in the Judaeo-Christian faith tradition look to our scriptures for the answer to the question: is the universe a friendly (and happy) place? And the answer is yes! Because it is presided over by a God who looks after us. "I will be your God and you will be my people." And how exactly does this Lord God look toward us? The 23rd Psalm gives us an answer: "The Lord is my Shepherd." There is someone who ultimately looks over me, and will ultimately care for me! That doesn’t mean that there will be no sorrows, woes or trials in my life in this world. But it does mean that we will not have to face those difficulties alone. "The Lord is my Shepherd" and will watch over me.

But how do we know this in the first place? We know it because of the "learning communities" we have grown up in: our families, our churches, our schools. They are the means that pass along to us the answer to: is the world a friendly place? They are the ones who teach that "The Lord is my Shepherd" no matter what happens. That’s what St. Paul is suggesting in the Second letter to Timothy: "Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from whom you learned it, and that from infancy you have known the Sacred Scriptures, which are capable of giving you wisdom for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ." These faith convictions are passed along from person to person, from generation to generation. The person to person communication remains vital in all this. Fr. Andrew Greeley has written on numerous occasions that the greatest theological "teaching moment" in the Catholic Tradition is when a young mother takes her child for the very first time up to the Christmas crib and points out the Baby Jesus in the crib and his mother, Mary, watching over him. The young mother tells her child, "That’s the way God watches over all of us." The greatest theological teaching moment in the Catholic tradition! That’s the beginning of the "learning communities" in our lives. There are many others.

Remembering a learning moment is, in a way, a time of going back to the basics, the ABCs of our life and of our faith. We need to do this at times for our monastic life, to re-visit the periods of monastic life that shaped us and that made us who we are. It’s one of the things that’s been happening to me as I am teaching the Vatican II course to Srs. Heather Jean and Anne Louise. We are going through the Constitution on the Liturgy right now and all the events that happened in the years right after the Council are making me replay those shaping events in my own life. It’s a very vivid reliving of them. The Vatican II passage that had the most powerful, shaping effect on my priestly ministry was this: "It is by the apostolic herald of the Gospel that the People of God is called that all who belong to this people...may offer themselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. Through the ministry of priests the spiritual sacrifice of the faithful is completed in union with the sacrifice of Christ." (The Ministry and Life of Priests, #2) That became my vision of a nutshell. The ministry of the priest, in all that he does, is to bring to completion the spiritual sacrifices of the faithful.

St. Paul is calling all of us to "Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed." It’s for each of us to examine our lives in that regard.

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