Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 5:1-7; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21:33-43

Sometimes the Apostle Paul seems so idealistic, it’s unreal. I have a pretty good idea how people today would react after hearing the second reading: "Have no anxiety at all." I think most would respond, "Maybe you can say that, but I can’t. I have too many responsibilities that are hanging over my head all the time." People have families to feed, children to raise and educate, debts to pay, aging parents to look after. The list goes on and on. "Have no anxiety at all? You have to be kidding."

But maybe we are looking at Paul’s words from the wrong perspective. Maybe he’s not talking about the daily pressures and cares of life. Paul knew very well that we will all have to bear our share of the cross. For many people those daily anxieties are part of the cross that it is theirs to bear. Maybe Paul was talking about our basic relationship to God. In other words he was saying: "Have no anxiety about this: the God of Jesus Christ cares for you. If you remember that, and bring that to mind often, then you will have a basic peace of heart." We should remember that Paul is writing to people who were a part of a very religiously diverse Greco-Roman culture. There were many, many religions and thousands of gods in the Roman Empire at that time. People worried about offending a god, maybe a god from some religion they didn’t even know about. Paul is also writing to people who are only recently Christian, so they may very well have carried some of their old religious attitudes with them. Paul wants to reassure them. In the Christian faith there is only one God and that God cares deeply for them. I am always moved by the words of the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer for Various Occasions: "By his words and actions Jesus proclaimed to the world that you care for us...." That says so very much about our Catholic Christian faith.

So the issue that is placed before us today is: what is our basic attitude toward our relationship with God. That’s a weighty issue, to be sure. In the last fifty years the Catholic Church has gone through a monumental shift in this regard. In the Counter-Reformation Church over the four hundred years before Vatican II, the general image of God was not of a caring God. God wasn’t angry or punishing, but he was sternly just. And he kept close tabs on each one of us. He was always watching over our shoulder and keeping his little notebook to mark a good grade or a demerit for every action we did. Just like the sister used to do in the grade school classroom. I recall one time when I was riding home on my bicycle and I came to a point where I could cut off a lot of my trip by cutting down an alley and then through a man’s private driveway. I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I wanted to get home quickly. I stood there for a long time and I swear I could see God with his little notebook and pen in hand ready to make a good or bad mark against me. (I honestly don’t remember what I did in the end.) But that was a common view of God before Vatican II.

The Second Vatican Council began to change that image of God for me and for lots of other Catholics. My classes in theology, especially in Scripture, really made me think and reassess my views. One passage that had a profound effect on me was from the prophet Hosea: "When Israel was a child, I loved him. ... It was I who taught Ephraim to walk. ...I led them with cords of human kindness, with hands of love." (11:1-4) Slowly my image of God shifted from the one with the notebook and pen to that of a parent coaxing a child to walk, holding hands on either side to catch the child if it falls. My image of God became one of an invisible power who wants us to discover our abilities and share them for the good of others. So Paul’s exhortation to "have no anxiety" is a good reminder for all of us to examine our own image of the basic relationship between God and ourselves.

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