Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Sir 15:15-20; 1 Cor 2:6-10; Mt 5:17-37

This past week a very fascinating article appeared in the February issue of U.S. Catholic about the relationship between science and religion. It really begins to stretch the mind when you start thinking about the immense vastness of space and time. "Scientists agree on these facts. The big bang occurred some 13.7 billion years ago and 4.6 billion years ago our solar system was formed. The sun is 93 million miles away. Light travels at over 186 thousand miles a second and a light year is the distance light travels in a (calendar) year. The Milky Way (our galaxy) is so big that at light speed it takes 100,000 years to leap from rim to rim. There are more than 100 billion galaxies in the known universe. .... If we can imagine all of cosmic history compressed into one (calendar) year, with the Big Bang as January 1st ... All of recorded human history occurs in the last three seconds of Dec. 31." (February, 2011, p. 18) The immensity of the numbers and the distances just blows your mind. And it all makes one have second thoughts about what we are referring to, when we say the word, "God." We should remember that later in this Eucharist when we will pray together, "We believe in one God....maker of heaven and earth."

It’s that same kind of mind-stretching that St. Paul challenges his readers to consider in the second reading we just heard from his First Letter to the Corinthians. We can presume that the great majority of Paul’s Corinthian readers were people who came from a Greco-Roman background, in which there was widespread belief in a multitude of gods—gods who influence just about every aspect of daily life, a multitude of gods who preside over every place in one’s house—the doorway, the windows, the fireplace, the kitchen. In response to that, Paul is saying that Christians worship only one god and this one god is bigger than we can possibly imagine. He even offers a quote which is one of the most famous passages of the New Testament: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it even entered into the human mind what God has prepared for those who love Him." God is much, much more than we can ever imagine.

One thing that has really puzzled New Testament scholars is: who exactly is Paul quoting? Nowhere else in the Ancient literature can that quotation be found. Now it’s possible that the document has simply been lost to historical record. But it’s also possible that Paul just made it up himself. He wouldn’t have been the first nor the last author to have done that. In the end it really doesn’t matter. It’s a wonderful passage and we know what Paul intends to convey by it. God is greater than anything we can possibly imagine or think.

It’s a lesson we have to learn over and over. In the generations before Vatican II there was often a tendency for many Catholics to have a very small view of God. God was constantly nosy—always looking over our shoulder for anything, anything we might do wrong. Thankfully the whole experience of the council replaced that with a much larger view of God, with a God who was always encouraging and inviting us to move forward, to enrich ourselves, to improve. That change was a blessing! Sometimes today it seems we are often failing in the opposite direction, again with a view of God that is too little. We imagine that God really doesn’t care that much what we do day to day. We really don’t think there’s any urgency about attending to the improvement of our spiritual lives—there’s plenty of time for that. That’s also a vision of God that’s too little. I’m always reminded of that whenever I pray the words of one of the Weekday Prefaces of the mass: "You have no need of our praise, and yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift." God is much larger than we can ever imagine, but this God has also placed within us that impulse to improve and enrich our faith. We should ever find inspiration in that closing line of St. Paul’s "quotation": "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it even entered into the human mind what God has prepared for those who love Him."

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