Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 43:18-25; 2 Cor 1:18-22; Mk 2:1-12

The current issue of America magazine carries a small article on the religious practices of young people (the millennial generation - those born after 1982). Much of the information is pretty predictable. Only 18% admit to any kind of religious affiliation or practice—down from the 58% it was during World War II. Where the article got interesting was when it began to suggest reasons for this minimal religious involvement. The usual culprits were not discussed: the sex abuse crisis; hypocrisy in the Church, boring liturgy, and so on. Instead the author described what some of the campus ministers at his university had discovered through intense small group experiences with the students: the students wanted nothing to do with religion because they felt unworthy to approach God or anything religious. The problem wasn’t with the Church; the problem was inside themselves. They began with the presupposition that God wouldn’t have anything to do with a wretch like me! Here’s a comment of one of the college students: "Hey, Father, how come before we get Communion we say that thing about not being worthy? That really sucks. So many kids today don’t feel worthy of anything. Why reinforce it right when we’re receiving Communion?" (Feb. 13, 2012, p. 22) That’s a different take on things. You have to begin by helping the students to recognize their own personal worth and dignity.

Aside from causing me some reassessment about the social situation of young people today, this anecdote also made me realize how similar are the readings in today’s liturgy to the situation of these young adults today! The scripture writers are hammering away at trying to get people to realize their "worthiness" before God. It’s almost like the writers begin with the presupposition that people start with the notion that God could never find them "worthy." But the Scriptural message is clearly: God finds you worthier than you could ever imagine, than you could ever find yourself.

In the first reading today the prophet Isaiah pounds home the point, "Remember not the events of the past." Don’t be chained down by your past life. "See, I am doing something new." You have to open your eyes to different possibilities. The prophet makes God say clearly: "It is I, I, who wipe out your offenses." In other words, you aren’t the measure of whether you are worthy or not. God is, and God says that you are worthy. Five hundred years later St. Paul tries to get a similar message into the minds of the Corinthian community. He writes, "God is faithful. His opinion doesn’t waver. In Jesus Christ it is once and for all Yes—towards us." God’s attitude towards us is forever forgiving and accepting. The Christian faith begins right there. If you don’t have that as a basis, you won’t understand anything that follows in a fully correct way.

That’s the message we would need to start with in framing an evangelizing message for those young adults mentioned above. But it’s not just the young who need to hear the message of God’s acceptance; there are lots of older people who need to hear it as well. Sadly, that message has been there clearly and openly for all Catholics to hear for the last fifty years....but it’s not getting communicated very well. I’ve often thought that one of the greatest achievements of the Second Vatican Council was its clear affirmation that human beings are created in the image of God (G & Sp ##12-14), that bodiliness and intellect and conscience are all intrinsically good because they were created good by God (##15-16). We all have a dignity given to us by God. True, we need to struggle to live up to it, but that God-given dignity is the starting point where we need to begin.

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