The New Copernican Revolution

(Homily for Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle C)

Bottom line: This Sunday's readings call us to a new Copernican revolution: to acknowledge God as the center and source of our existence.

This Sunday's readings call us to a New Copernican Revolution. The first Copernican Revolution takes its name from a Polish clergyman named Nicolas Copernicus. He initiated a major paradigm shift when he proposed the heliocentric theory. Instead of viewing the earth as the center of the universe, Copernicus postulated that the earth revolves around the sun. That was the first Copernican revolution.

The new Copernican revolution is this: Rather than seeing ourselves as the center, with God as one more object revolving around us, we take a different view of things. We see God as the center and just as the earth receives life from the sun, so we receive everything from God: our life, our energy, our very existence. God is not one more object out there. No, he is the center and source of everything. This Sunday's readings call us to change our way of thinking, to experience a new Copernican revolution.

Let's start with the first reading. It's about Naaman, a pagan military general. He commanded a powerful army and was used to getting his way. As a pagan (a non Israelite) he thought he had the gods at his beck and call. But none of them could cure his chronic skin disease. In desperation, he asked the prophet Elisha to help him. Elisha told him that in order to be healed, he had to acknowledge the God of Israel, the one true God. At first Namaan was reluctant, even indignant. But, as I said, he was desperate - the skin disease, his leprosy, threatened to consume him. So he did something courageous. He swallowed his pride, did what the prophet instructed and - praise God - his affliction left him. Naaman then said, "Now I know there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel." Naaman experienced a Copernican revolution. He realized that, even though he commands others, he is not the center of the universe; God, the God of Israel, the one true God is the center of all.

The Gospel also illustrates this new Copernican revolution, but with irony, that is, with something unexpected, a surprise. Jesus heals ten lepers, nine of them Jewish and one of them a non-Jew, a Samaritan. The Jews should have come back to Jesus to praise God, but it appears they were anxious to make up for lost time. Only the Samaritan, the non-Jew, the half-breed, only he returned to thank Jesus.

To thank someone, to express gratitude is a beautiful thing. It recognizes that I am not the be all and the end, that I am dependent upon others, that I can receive a gift. To thank someone acknowledges dependence and to thank God is the beginning of a personal transformation. All of us want a new way of thinking, a new way of looking at ourselves and others. We want to put God at the center. Like the Samaritan, we do it by an act of thanksgiving or as we say, Eucharist - a Greek word that means thanksgiving. Eucharist, the Mass, requires a new Copernican revolution - putting God at the center, recognizing that all comes form him.

I would like to conclude with a man who illustrates the new Copernican revolution. This might surprise you, but the man is Copernicus himself. Besides being a brilliant scientist and the most important modern astronomer, Copernicus was a devout Christian. He studied theology and received minor orders. In the year 1500, when he was twenty-seven years old, he made a pilgrimage to Rome for the Holy Year. As a cleric, he prayed the office, the Liturgy of Hours, every day. In the spring of 1543, when Copernicus was on his death bed, his admirers brought him his astronomy books and asked him to point out the most significant passages. He brushed the books aside and instead asked his friends to write this epitaph:

O Lord, I cannot ask for the faith that you gave to Paul;
the mercy that you showed to Peter I dare not ask.
But the grace that you showed to the dying robber, that, Lord, show to me.

Copernicus saw the heart of our relationship to God. He is our Creator. We are fallen creatures in need of grace. Before God we cannot assert our rights, but only gratefully accept his free gift. He is not some object out there, waiting to do our bidding. No, he is the center and from him, we receive all that we are have and are. This Sunday's readings call us to a new Copernican revolution: to acknowledge God as the center and source of our existence. Amen.


Spanish Version

From Archives (28th Sunday, Year C):

2013: Focus on Prayer, Part One: Gratitude
2010: The New Copernican Revolution
2004: Two Classes of Men
2001: Show Yourselves to the Priests
1998: Gratitude for Life and Gifts

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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