Sunday, May 6, 2012

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter by Fr. Matthias Neuman, OSB

Readings: Acts 9:26-31; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8

The Bible contains some marvelous passages that try to express the whole of one’s religious belief and actions in a very succinct way. For example, in the prophecy of Micah: "This is what the Lord requires of you: to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God." (6:8) Or again in the Letter of James: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world." (1:27) And there’s one in today’s reading from the first Letter of John: "God’s commandment is this: that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another." Oh, would that it were so simple. Lately I’ve been going through my notes and files, culling out lots of things (student grade sheets and hand-written notes that even I can’t read anymore) and throwing them away. When I look at all the topics in my notes, topics that I have taught in theology courses or given retreats and workshops about, it’s pretty clear that "being a Christian" has become a lot more complicated than those little thumbnail summaries would have us believe. And that’s just dealing with issues in systematic theology; lots of other areas of religious disciplines would contribute their own concerns and problems.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s in the very nature of things to become more complex as they move on in time, s they evolve and change. For example, cars used to be relatively simple; it once was fairly easy to go out and work on an engine....until they started to put those computer chips in all over the place. Or again. There is nothing that strikes more fear in the hearts of parents of young children than when the child receives a present, a toy, that has imprinted on the box: Some assembly required. (I like that cartoon where a father is holding a list of Assembly Instructions and the first one reads: Get a degree in mechanical engineering.) You used to be able to go out and buy a telephone, bring it home, plug it in and use it right away. Now you buy a telephone and with it you receive a thick instruction book about all the things you have to pre-set before you can use the phone. It’s in the very nature of things to become more complex. Unfortunately that applies to religion as well.

But I would still maintain that those short summaries serve a very useful purpose. That purpose is this: when we get overwhelmed, confused, or conflicted by the complexity of a religious issue, these short sayings become safety grips to hold on to. We can say, "I can’t understand why this happens" and emotionally get tied in knots. The complexity is simply too much to sort out now. Then it’s helpful to grab on to one of these succinct summaries and say: "This is God’s command: believe in Jesus Christ and love one another." That can help to get you through. In a way that’s why we have some of the posters we do on our walls. I have one such poster that hangs on the wall by my work desk and computer. I’ve had it for years. It shows a part of the old city wall in Lucerne, Switzerland, along with part of the old medieval city center with the saying: "In solitude one lives in all ages." It’s hard to explain, but through the years, through class preparations, writing articles, reflecting on spiritual direction problems that picture and saying helped me many times. Maybe sometime when we are wondering about the complexities of "being a Christian," when we find ourselves swamped by some religious problem, just think of today’s maxim: "God’s commandment is this: that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another." Maybe that will be enough to help us get through. Just another of God’s little gifts.

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