Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 4thSunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 2:14,36-42; 1 Peter 2:20-25; John 10:1-10

In today’s gospel passage Jesus uses two images to describe himself, the Good Shepherd and the Gate. Both of them are symbols that contain overlapping realms of meaning. I personally find myself taken by the image of "Gate." But most of the significance of that term for me comes from my study of Jewish mysticism.

In Jewish mystical literature the image of "gate" possesses a highly charged meaning. A "gate" can be anything (a thing, a person, an event, a sensory perception) that opens you suddenly to the Divine Presence, the Presence of the Holy One. Gates can appear anywhere at any time. A particular event may on one occasion serve a gate and then never again. The whole purpose of spirituality is to teach a person to be always on the lookout for "gates to the Holy."

The modern Jewish spiritual writer, Lawrence Kushner, writes often about "gates" in his own experience. He writes: "Gates to holiness are everywhere. The possibility of ascent is all the time. Even at unlikely times and through unlikely places. There is no place on earth without the Presence. ... In a wilderness. Through a bush. From a circle. Nothing is beneath the dignity of being selected as a gate.

"One day I visited my daughter’s first grade class.... The air hung with a November chill. The children were working/playing in four or five groups. Someone shouted, ‘Look! It’s snowing outside.’ The groups crumbled as their members ran to the windows. No need for daily prayers here. Or on the proper blessing for seeing nature’s wonders for the first time. The cycle alternates between grand cathedrals and meditation amidst the trees of the forest. And we rediscover the fundamental truth. Gates to holiness are everywhere and all the time." (Honey from the Rock, p. 56)

I think we can make a valid application of this meaning of "gate" to Jesus. Jesus in many different ways serves as a gate to the divine. He reveals the hiddenness and depth of the Father. One aspect that really struck me during Holy Week was that the Passion of Jesus reveals a God who suffers with us. How profoundly that image can strike us. And how many people have been influenced by the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to come to believe in the compassion and mercy of God! There are so many images of Jesus that serve as gates or doorways to shape an understanding of God. One of my fellow students from San Anselmo in Rome, Anselm Grun (from the monastery Munsterschwarzach) recently wrote a spirituality book on Images of Jesus. He offers fifty different images of Jesus that have all been used as gates to better understand the Mystery of God. Some of them are really interesting: Jesus the dropout; Jesus the friend of women; Jesus the wild man; Jesus the clown; Jesus the glutton and drunkard; the Jesus who doesn’t let us rest. There’s much food for thought here.

Lastly, I’d like to connect this homily with the previous two Sundays after Easter. The main themes of those homilies developed the importance of mutual trust and reverent behavior as two ways of showing how we express a "living hope" in the Resurrection. In another sense both of them help us to be more prepared to be aware of "gates." Having respect for others and showing reverent behavior makes us more open and receptive to perceive "gates" where suddenly the presence of God happens. Let’s pray that each of us may find our "gates."

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