Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 55:10-11; Rm 8:18-23: Mt 13; 1-9

One of my past community members at St. Meinrad that I will always remember was Br. Rene Bouillon. Br. Rene was a large, hefty man with a sometimes jovial, sometimes gruff personality. He was for many years the manager of the Abbey laundry. He developed the habit of addressing his fellow monks by their laundry number. "Hello, Br. Rene; hello, 204." He was a quite intelligent man who had a keen interest in his Belgian heritage. I remember his intense joy on sifting through the possessions of one of his deceased relatives over in the little town of Leopold. He discovered a traditional wooden shoe, a sabot, that had been made in Belgium. He was joyous for weeks. But what I remember most are the last years of his life. He was scheduled to have surgery for a hernia and the doctor ordered an X-ray to make sure there were no complicating factors. But the X-ray showed a spot on one of his lungs. So soon after the hernia surgery, there was another surgery to remove the spot. It was cancerous. There followed two years of chemotherapy, radiation and intense pain before he finally succumbed to the disease. But one time during those last two years I came out of my monastery room and I met Br. Rene laboriously and painfully making his way down the hall. He just looked at me with a face filled with sadness and said, "What did I ever do to deserve this?" So I invited him into my room to talk about it. He came to me often until he died.

It seems to me that same feeling (what did I ever do to deserve this) is in the background of all three readings we heard this morning. And the blunt response is: "You simply have to trust in God’s plan, God’s will. There’s nothing you can do about it." The readings, of course, put it much more delicately than that. Isaiah says, "The word of God goes forth and accomplishes all it seeks." Paul writes: "all creation is groaning in labor pains." And Jesus’ parable in the gospel passage is: the seed falls where it will. The blunt message is the same in all of them: "You simply have to trust in God’s plan, God’s will. There’s nothing you can do about it and it’s NOT your fault."

That was what I had to explain to Br. Rene in his suffering and pain. I didn’t put it in such blunt terms. But at base it’s a hard message; there are no two ways about it. Especially when one begins to survey human history or even our present times and sees the many, many brutalities that people inflict on each other, particularly innocent victims. There isn’t any way you can avoid asking "why," why doesn’t God do something to intervene? Why doesn’t God answer my own heartfelt plea for help? Or Br. Rene’s question: "what did I ever do to deserve this?"

The Bible gives us two answers that clash. On the one hand, we are told to make our needs known to God. "Pray to your Heavenly Father." On the other hand we are told, "It’s all in God’s Will. God’s plan will surely work itself out. There’s nothing you can do about it." We are told to hold to both of them, even though we can’t see how they make sense together. That’s what faith is all about and it can be very, very hard.

It seems to me that the prayer that expresses all this best is the prayer for Anointing. "May the Lord in His love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit. May the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up." The prayer asks that we be strengthened in whatever difficulty we are facing. It then recognizes that God has already saved us and we ask for a future betterment, whether in this life or in the next. It’s a beautiful prayer. We will hear it often in just over a week.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Br. Rene Bouillon was my uncle. I remember him fondlly as a kind and loving man. I especially recall his love for God, St. Meinrad, and his family. I discovered this homily about his last days when I recently googled his name. It brings me great comfort knowing that he was comforted during his last days. Thank you for sharing this homily and Fr. Matthias Neuman, thank you for showing my uncle such great compassion and care.

Karen Bouillon Carabin
Medina, Ohio