Sunday, July 31, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 55:1-3; Rm 8:35-39; Mt 14:13-21

One of the most welcome transitions that I lived through in my lifetime (and many of you did too) was the change in the general tenor of the Catholic Church. It moved from a church centered on guilt and judgment to a church centered on love and service. That has been a very welcome transition flowing from the Second Vatican council. How did the Church ever get into that situation of emphasizing guilt and judgment? Especially when there are such powerful expressions of God’s love for us in so many scriptural passages. Today’s second reading, from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, serves as a marvelous example: "I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels, nor principalities.....nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." That’s a powerful affirmation of the primacy of God’s love for us.

How did we ever get to that Counter-Reformation spirituality centered on guilt, judgment and punishment? There are historical reasons and in hindsight they appear quite clearly. It’s not so easy to see them when one is living forward through them. Some years ago I gave a workshop on the Counter-Reformation to an adult group at Our Lady of the Greenwood parish. To sum up that distinctive Counter-Reform spirituality I read to them a list of themes that one historian had discovered running through the sermons of parish priests, religious order priests and priests who gave parish missions. Here are some of those themes that were preached on again and again: even venial sins are a grave offence against God; Marriage is a dangerous situation; the body is to be feared; any sexual fault is mortal sin; the ‘ascetic model’ is the only way to salvation; all amusement and pleasure are to be rejected; the confessor is to be prosecutor and judge; one bad confession negated all preceding ones. Is it any wonder that scrupulosity and guilt became rife in the Catholic Church. In that parish workshop when we took a break, I was amazed at the number of people who came up to me and said that they had believed every one of those things when they were growing up. Without doubt the Second Vatican Council was a great gift of God to the Church.

There exists a powerful connection between love and service in the Vatican II vision of Christian faith as well as in the vision of the early Christian Church. This love of God for us not only endears us to God and God to us, but it also impels us toward the service of others, to assist people and help them in myriad ways. I don’t think that connection was always appreciated in those first heady years after Vatican II when people were breaking free from guilt and punishment. There certainly were some who turned the late 1960s and early 1970s into the "feel good about yourself" years. They never quite got the connection between love and service.

But we need to get it and pursue it: to hold deeply in our hearts that God loves us, that God strongly desires us to enter into the Divine Presence and that this obliges us to reach out in service to one another. Indeed, we are to seek out the neediest among us and do what we can to help them. That’s why the many people in your community who help each week in food pantries are doing some of the finest Christian work in the whole community. Their service needs to flow from their own conviction of God’s love for them and for all people and that love impels them to serve. That’s the whole message of the teaching and life of Jesus.

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