After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn.John 21:1-11
Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter
In the foot washing scene at the Last Supper, a beautiful image of apostolic communion in Christ toward the Father is given to the Church.
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.John 13:20
An apostle (apostolos) is a “messenger,” one sent out by Jesus Christ to represent him. Sender and sent are so closely united that Paul reached for an organic metaphor to express it:
He is the head of the body, the church.Colossians 1:18; cf. Ephesians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12:4-8
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
Jesus’ vision of the Church soars far beyond this earth, yet deep within its heart, into the glory of the Blessed Trinity who dwells in creation as in a temple. Apostles are sent by Christ to lead God’s children into the very heart of the Father, sender of his only-begotten Son.
Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.John 13:16-17
Jesus’ standard of greatness was demonstrated on the floor with a basin of water and a towel around his waist. His actions and words mirrored the very character of the Father: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Apostles are called to be icons of Christ, mirrors of the Father’s heart, in the Spirit of truth.
Even if one out of twelve betray him, Jesus showed by his free acceptance of the Cross that the Church is worth dying for.
I am not speaking of all of you. I know those whom I have chosen. But so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘The one who ate my food has raised his heel against me. ’From now on I am telling you before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe that I AM.John 13:18-19
Love is worth the price of betrayal. With only one disciple at the foot of the Cross, one hanged, and ten in hiding, Jesus looked beyond his scars, thorns, nails, and wounds to the Father and pleaded on behalf of the Church and world: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
When Jesus expired to the Father, he commended all of humanity to the Father: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows and Mother of the Church, pray for us.
5th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year I)
Genesis 2:18-25; Psalm 128
The creation story of cosmic and human origins in Genesis is shrouded in mystery, enigma, and impenetrable conundrums. The first chapter poetically captures the goodness, beauty and delight taken by the Creator God in the heavens and the earth, culminating in his “rest” (shabath) on the seventh day as in a temple. The second chapter develops the story of human origins in particular and also sets up the conflict and plot to follow. As soon as the two trees of life and knowledge are pointed out to Adam, the possibility of death is introduced.
You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.Genesis 2:16-17
The tree of knowledge of good and evil is enigmatic at this point, for “evil” would have been meaningless in a world fresh from the Creator’s hand. A limitation set on human freedom did not detract from the goodness of creation, for it was a gift to exercise Adam’s trust and love and bring him to maturity.
Will Adam pass the test? At this point, God observes something wanting in Adam: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).
After Adam names the animals, none of whom are “a helper suited” to him, God casts him into a deep sleep, “and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh” (Genesis 2:21).
The Lord God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man, the man said:Genesis 2:22-23
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of man this one has been taken.”
Adam, who was one, is now physically two. Yet “male and female” were already in the single nature of Adam before Eve was taken out of his side.
St. Ephrem the Syrian (fl. 363-373) writes:
God then brought her to Adam, who was both one and two. He was one in that he was Adam, and he was two because he had been created male and female.1
St. Ephrem’s intuition is confirmed by Christology, the apex of Christian anthropology. John’s Prologue states that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). The Greek word for flesh (sarx) translates the Hebrew word for flesh (basar) in Genesis 2:24 of the Greek Septuagint (LXX). The New American Bible (Revised Edition) translates basar as “body,” but offers the alternative “flesh” in its footnote.
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body (flesh).Genesis 2:24
The implication is that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, in assuming “flesh,” assumed both halves of humankind at once, plus all living beings, which are encompassed in the idea of sarx.
The text of Genesis does not elaborate on why it was “not good” for Adam to remain as he was, but the task of cultivating the garden and securing the fruit of the tree of life now became the joint vocation of Adam and Eve.
Psalm 128:3 evokes garden imagery to express the goodness of the home and family, a sacred space like Eden:
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants
around your table.
Jesus Christ (second Adam) and the Blessed Virgin Mary (second Eve) are the ultimate answers given in the course of salvation history, for together they overcame evil and gained access to the tree of life for all living beings. The vocation of Adam and Eve to become “one flesh” and integrate the cosmos in their humanity was accomplished by Jesus and Mary virginally. Ultimately, the story is “good” because freedom, love, trust and obedience were perfected in our humanity.
Within the cosmic temple, Adam is a microcosmic temple—a dwelling place for God, the temple’s essence. Temple imagery appears in the creation of Eve from Adam’s “rib,” for the Hebrew word for rib (tsela) also refers to the side chambers of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:5), Ezekiel’s visionary temple (Ezekiel 41:5), and the side of the tabernacle (Exodus 26:20).
Jesus referred to himself as God’s temple (John 2:19-21).2
As Adam and Eve compose the temple of God, Christ and the Church compose the temple of the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Many patristic commentators reflect that as Eve was taken out of the side of Adam, the Church came forth from the side of Christ on the Cross.
St. Augustine (354-430):
Even in the beginning, when woman was made from a rib in the side of the sleeping man, that had no less a purpose than to symbolize prophetically the union of Christ and his Church. Adam’s sleep was a mystical foreshadowing of Christ’s death, and when his dead body hanging from the cross was pierced by the lance, it was from his side that there issued forth that blood and water that as we know, signifies the sacraments by which the Church is built up. “Built” is the very word the Scripture uses in connection with Eve: “He built the rib into a woman.” …So too St. Paul speaks of “building up the body of Christ,” which is his Church. Therefore woman is as much the creation of God as man is. If she was made from the man, this was to show her oneness with him; and if she was made in the way she was, this was to prefigure the oneness of Christ and the Church.3
Quodvultdeus (fl. 430):
The great mystery is that Adam hopes after receiving the promise. He sees that the spouse in whom he believed is now united to him. Therefore he symbolically announces to us that through faith the Church will be the mother of humankind. It is evident that since Eve had been created from the side of the sleeping Adam, he has foreseen that from the side of Christ hanging on the cross the Church, which is in truth the mother of the whole new humankind, must be created.4
St. Ambrose (c. 333-397):
If the union of Adam and Eve is a great mystery in Christ and in the Church, it is certain that as Eve was bone of the bones of her husband and flesh of his flesh, we also are members of Christ’s body, bones of his bones and flesh of his flesh.5
If all Scripture speaks of Christ,6 Psalm 128:3 is the voice of the Bridegroom about his Bride, “the wife of the Lamb.”7 The poem evokes the children of God the Father around the Eucharistic table:
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
in the recesses of your home;
Your children like olive plants
around your table.
The resurrection of Christ and the assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary reclothed Adam and Eve in their robe of glory at their “wedding.”
The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.Genesis 2:25
They were not ashamed because of the glory with which they were clothed.St. Ephrem the Syrian8
Asleep in the garden,
Eve emerged from Adam’s side—
His perfect companion,
Most beloved friend and bride.
Awake in Gethsemane,
Prayed Adam for his wife.
In a grove of olive trees,
His life pledged for her life.
Asleep on the Tree of Life,
The Church flowed from Jesus’ side—
Blood and water from the temple,
Divine life to save his Bride.
1 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 2.12. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 69.
The Ancient Christian Commentary footnote explains: “Before Eve, Adam was two in that Eve was already implicitly within him. After Eve was created, he was two because he had been created male and female. Yet in all this duality he did not cease to be a single person, hence one.”
There is ambiguity in this explanation concerning the notions of “person” and “nature.” Based on Trinitarian anthropology, the nature of the universal Adam is one, but persons are multiple. Neither St. Ephrem nor the Ancient Christian Commentary footnote addresses whether Adam and Eve are unique “persons.” Current theological anthropology is still ambiguous on distinctions between person, nature and individual. Since humankind is materially divisible yet metaphysically one, the conundrum is magnified. In the case of Adam’s division, St. Ephrem intuits the simultaneity of duality and unity, but has not hardened them into concepts.
2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote for other references.
3 St. Augustine, City of God 22.17. From Ibid., 71.
4 Quodvultdeus, Book of Promises and Predictions of God 1.3. From Ibid.
5 St. Ambrose, Letters to Laymen 85. From Ibid.
6 “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.” From Catechism of the Catholic Church 134, quoting Hugh of St. Victor.
7 Revelation 21:9.
8 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis 2.14.2. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Genesis 1-11, Andrew Louth and Marco Conti, editors, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 72.
Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles
Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16
Brothers and sisters: You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.Ephesians 2:19-22
From heaven’s perspective we are all exiles far from home, refugees in the same boat—the saving ark of Christ—sailing through this vale of tears (1 Peter 3:18-22). Adoption into the family of God by baptism makes no distinctions of race, class, gender, passport or visa.
The Son of God became the brother of every human person, uniting all races and nations into one family. The Body of Christ is the new and indestructible temple of the Holy Spirit (John 2:19-21).
Jesus went up to the mountain to pray, and he spent the night in prayer to God. When day came, he called his disciples to himself, and from them he chose Twelve, whom he also named Apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called a Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.Luke 6:12-16
Jesus spent an all-night vigil with the Father and the Holy Spirit in preparation for the call of the Apostles, who with the prophets would form the foundation of the eternal and indivisible temple of God.
On October 28 we celebrate the feast of two foundation stones, St. Simon the Zealot and St. Jude. Lit by the Spirit’s transforming fire, Saint Simon widened his nationalistic zeal to universal scope and joined St. Peter the fisherman in catching the globe in their net. Nothing definite is known about St. Jude, but tradition has made him the patron saint of impossible causes.
Jesus’ original desire that all may be one as a “dwelling place of God in the Spirit” is surely an “impossible cause” that can be entrusted to Saints Simon and Jude (John 17:21). They join heaven’s throng in a continual vigil for our unity as citizens of a country not of this world.
30th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday (Year II)
Ephesians 5:21-33; Luke 13:18-21
In challenging times when the world seems to be falling apart, a tiny mustard seed of faith is more powerful than all negative forces combined.
Mathematics, the art of the quantifiable, is inapplicable to the spiritual realm. One holy saint has more leverage with heaven than millions who are rebellious or indifferent.
Thus God listened to Abraham’s plea on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16:33). He listened to Moses who interceded for the worshippers of the golden calf (Exodus 32:11-14). In Israel’s battle against Amalek, not military strategy or battalions, but the arms of Moses continually raised in prayer wrought victory (Exodus 17:11).
In history’s darkest hour, when God was pronounced “dead” on the hill of Golgotha, Mary, the Mother of God, Mary of Clopas, Mary Magdalene, and John the Beloved stood firm in faith at the foot of the Cross (John 19:25-27). From the Resurrection, Ascension, and Pentecost to the present time, the mustard seed of faith and grace has been growing in spite of hostility and skepticism.
The Holy Spirit living and active in the tabernacles of the saints is the seed and leaven of the Church.
Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.” Again he said, “To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened” (Luke 13:18-21).
The Spirit works like leaven in hidden and mysterious ways, preparing the Bride for the wedding feast of heaven. Christ the Bridegroom “loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the Church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
We join the saints and the flowering tree of grace by prayer and charity.
It’s easy to blame leaders, and we do it all the time. World leaders are speaking at the UN this week and some are easy targets. Anyone running for office in our country can expect a withering scrutiny. Church leaders aren’t immune either.
St. Augustine in our liturgy recently has a sermon on the Good Shepherd in which he warns church leaders not to lead the sheep astray but to be like Jesus. When they are like him they are “in the one Shepherd, and in that sense they are not many but one. When they feed the sheep it is Christ who is doing the feeding.”
So pray for good leaders for our church, Augustine says: “May it never happen that we truly lack good shepherds! May it never happen to us! May God’s loving kindness never fail to provide them!”
But the saint goes on to say we must do more than pray, we ourselves must be “good sheep,” because “if there are good sheep then it follows that there are good shepherds, since a good sheep will naturally make a good shepherd.”
Is that something that applies to us as citizens of the United States? Are the leaders we blame mirrors of ourselves? Are we getting the leaders we deserve? Add to a prayer for good leaders, a prayer for good citizens. God make us good citizens, and good leaders will come.
On today’s feast of St. James, the apostle, Matthew’s gospel describes Salome, the mother of James and John, asking Jesus to give her sons privileged places in his kingdom. “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”
I’m not sure Salome would have fallen at Jesus’ feet as she’s pictured in the illustration above. They were related, after all, and she was a senior relative of his. She probably reminded Jesus that James and John were his cousins, and remember, I know your mother. Family ties always help people get ahead.
Jesus doesn’t dismiss her altogether, but he reminds her that his followers are to serve and not be served. It’s a service that will cost them, even their lives. Following him doesn’t mean that they and their family would gain. Like the Son of Man James and John will have to give their lives “for many.”
They’re called by God to reach out, and reaching out can be hard, sometimes painful. It means going beyond those we call our own, our families and friends. It means reaching out to those we don’t know, even to those we don’t like. It means going beyond what we’re used to.
Later stories say that James and John went to places far beyond the Sea of Galilee where they fished with their father Zebedee and were cared for by a mother who had their interests at heart. Our church is a missionary church. It reaches out to the whole world. That’s what Jesus last words in Matthew’s gospel says to do: “Go out to the whole world, baptizing and teaching.”
That’s still his word today. Go out to the whole world, even if the world is changing and the future is uncertain. “I am with you all days,” Jesus says.
James, brother of John, is also known as James the Greater, to distinguish him from James the Less, the other disciple mentioned in the New Testament. James was the first of the apostles to die for Christ; he was beheaded in Jerusalem by King Herod Agrippa in 42 AD.
Later Traditions About James
Some 4th century Christian writers say that one of the apostles went to Spain and a 6th century source identifies the apostle as James, who preached briefly in Spain and converted only a few before returning to Jerusalem and his death.
Modern scholars are divided about the truth of the tradition. Relics said to be of St. James were discovered in Compostela in Galicia in northwestern Spain in the 9th century, a major event in Spanish history. His shrine at Compostella became a major pilgrimage center for the people of Spain and Europe, rivaling even Rome and Jerusalem in its popularity.
From the 9th century onward, James was patron of the Spanish peoples and a rallying cry in their fight to free their land from the Moors. At four battles – Clavijo (9th c.), Simancas (10th c.), Coimbra (11th c.) and Las Navas de Tolosa (1212) – legends say he appeared as a warrior astride a great white horse with a sword in his hand. Throughout the Middle Ages, soldiers and knights came as pilgrims to Compostela to seek the saint’s protection.
In 1492, when Spain was finally free of Moorish domination, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella came to Compostela to give thanks to St.James in the name of the Spanish people.
How old are the relics of St.James? Pilgrims from Galicia were frequent visitors to the Holy Land as early as the 4th century and may have brought the relics back to their native land. Colorful legends from medieval times, however, brought the story back further to the time of the apostle himself, saying that disciples of James fled with his body after he was beheaded and, escaping by boat, drifted to the coast of Spain where, after many adventures they buried him. These legends about James appear frequently in medieval art and in numerous churches built in his honor in France, England, and later in the Spanish colonies of the New World. Cities such as Santiago, Chile, Santiago, Cuba,San Diego, California, are named after him. The feast of St.James is July 25.
Deuteronomy 7:6-11, 1 John 4:7-16, Matthew 11:25-30
Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
“God is Love.”
Like an owl squinting in sunlight, the eyes of humankind open gradually to the truth of who we are as a people and who God is. “You are a people sacred to the Lord,” Moses told the Israelites. Bending to the weakness of human mistrust, God made an “oath,” a covenant with his people, though Jesus would later exhort them not to swear at all. No gap lies between a divine word and its fulfillment, after all. The oath was for Israel, not for God.
The engagement between God and his people was also very fuzzy, like a picture out of focus. The “I AM” of the burning bush was personal, but faceless. “No one has ever seen God,” and yet, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” Jesus said (John 1:18; 14:9).
The identity of the mysterious YHWH began to focus a little bit more as Jesus shared with his disciples the heart of the Father, and promised to send them the Advocate, the Spirit of truth.
As God’s identity was revealed, Israel’s began to sharpen into some clarity. God is not only One, but Three. Israel, the precursor of the Church, is not only a people, but persons.
Moses consecrated Israel as a “sacred people,” a nation set apart. The Holy Spirit consecrated the disciples as unique persons when he descended upon each one with a distinct tongue of fire.
“Love” is not an abstraction, but a concrete reality with concrete faces—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each unique person baptized by the Spirit in one Body of Christ. The finite and the infinite, the created and the uncreated are united in communion in a way beyond conceptual grasp.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Anne, St. Joachim, the Holy Innocents, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. John, St. James (son of Zebedee), St. James (son of Alpheus), St. Andrew, St. Philip, St. Bartholomew, St. Thomas, St. Matthew, St. Simon, St. Jude, St. Matthias, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Paul, St. Barnabas, St. Timothy, St. Titus, St. Priscilla, St. Aquila and all the saints to the present day each shine with unique splendor in heavenly communion.
The eternally young, ever-begotten Son of the Father who became the microscopically small son of Mary with a tiny beating heart invites us to become little with him. Mysteries that elude the “wise and the learned” are revealed to “little ones.”
After Christ’s revelation of the thrice holy Trinity, new light is shed upon the entire arc of salvation history, especially the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This meditation sketch explores the thesis that Mary and Mother Church image the Divine Person of the Father in being the font of new persons.
Consider Mary’s virginity. From her womb, the Son of God received his human nature and became for us the Son of Man, yet without change to his divinity. His immutable identity as the only-begotten Son of the Father—his Person—remained intact. In Mary he is conceived not by the seed of man, but by the Holy Spirit. In other words, his entrance into our world bypassed the dyadic union of the male and the female.
This theological truth suggests that the hidden “who” or person of each of us is also transcendent to that dyadic union. Our final destination in the transfigured and deified state is communion in the Trinity, in which persons “neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).
Masculinity and femininity are two complementary halves of one human nature, but the person of each man or woman is whole and entire, transcendent to nature. Consider the Person of Christ who is neither male nor female, as divinity transcends the dyad. He lived his earthly life as a first-century Jewish man, but his hidden “who” remained in triadic communion without ceasing.
Before proceeding, let us review the distinctions between person, individual, and nature within humanity. An individual has a certain height, weight, gender, culture, giftedness, etc., but persons embody the entire human nature—the entire Body of Christ—really and mystically. In common parlance, we use the word “person” when we mean “individual,” but in theological terms, they have distinct meanings which cannot be confused in the case of Christ. In the Trinity there are no “individuals,” as each Person contains the whole divine nature in its entirety.
Salvation is on the line if these two meanings are not clearly distinguished. A guiding dictum in patristic theology (reflections by the Church Fathers) states: “What has not been assumed has not been saved.” We believe that Christ assumed human nature and saved it. If the Person of Christ is not distinguished from his existence in time as an individual, then what is saved is only the masculine, Jewish portion of humanity.
In Scripture, the language of the dyad is employed to speak of the relationship between man and God—the Church is the “Bride of Christ.” Humanity is “betrothed” to God in “marriage.” St. John speaks of the “marriage of the Lamb” in Revelation. For most of salvation history, and for all of the Old Testament, God is conceived as one, not Trinity. Man is in an “I-Thou” relationship with the one God. The God revealed by Jesus Christ, however, is both one and three. Dyadic language points to the union between the divine and human natures, but our communion in the Trinity as persons requires another approach.
It is noteworthy that the Third Person of the Trinity is not revealed to us with a gendered name. The name “Holy Spirit,” unlike “Father” and “Son,” transcends the dyad. This supports the revelation of Christ that heavenly communion transcends marriage. Names are given to us during our earthly sojourn, and we reverence the Persons whose names we invoke. In our heavenly state, there will be no need for words and addresses, as we will all be of one mind and heart in the love of the Trinity.
The thesis sketched here, if based on sound principles, requires more development. The point of this essay was to explore the idea that Mary and the Church give birth to persons in the Womb of the Father, fit for eternal communion in the Trinity. The Church’s font of baptism, also like a “womb” in which we are born “of water and the Spirit,” makes us adopted children of the Father. The Father is a Virgin, St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote in his work, On Virginity, highlighting the passionlessness of Christ’s eternal birth. The revelation of the Trinity deeply enriches our meditation on who we are as persons and our destiny for eternal communion in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The weekdays at Mass we’re reading St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, a Christian community in the city of Corinth around the year 50, shortly after the time of Jesus. Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians are favorite sources for historians studying the early Christian church; they also help us reflect on our own church today.
During the easter season we read the Acts of the Apostles– St. Luke’s overview of the early Christian church as it spreads from Jerusalem to Rome after the resurrection of Jesus, mainly through the activity of Peter and Paul. Now, in ordinary time we look more closely at one of the churches Paul founded–the church at Corinth. What was it like?
Drawn from different peoples flocking to the great Mediterranean port, the Christian community at Corinth was diverse; it attracted a variety of preachers and teachers, causing some division, noticeably as they came together to “break bread.” There’s some sexual immorality in this church, close to the open sea. Some were wondering about the resurrection of Jesus.
Its members were not mostly Jewish Christians, though there are some who may have missed the stability found in a Jewish synagogue. There’s no bishop administering this church as yet. Paul’s ministry is to the world; there is no one person in charge here for him to work with.
It’s a church “in the works,” not complete, with glaring weaknesses, struggling to grow in faith, with plenty of loose ends, looking for answers. It’s a church experiencing great change. It’s a church suffering, not from outward persecution, but from turmoil within.
Maybe a church like ours?
Addressing the Corinthians, Paul sees first their suffering, which he describes as “Christ’s suffering”. He feels that mystery in himself, as he says in the opening chapters of the Second Letter to the Corinthians. He returns to that theme over and over.
Yes, problems must be faced, corrections made, restructuring to take place, but Paul keeps reminding the Corinthians they’re experiencing the sufferings of Christ–with Christ’s suffering comes his encouragement.
Paul knew both–the sufferings of Christ and his encouragement. “We were utterly weighed down beyond our strength, so that we despaired of life,” he writes from the province of Asia, but with suffering came an overflowing encouragement, which always accompanies the sufferings of Christ. “We do not trust in ourselves but in God who raises from the dead.” ( 2 Corinthians 1, 5-11)
Paul’s way is the right way, the first way to look at our experience. We’re tempted to judge, to analyze, to condemn, to throw up our hands and lose hope in the world around us. We need to remember the sufferings of Christ, a mystery affecting us all, and the “encouragement” that always accompanies this mystery.
Listen to Paul speaking to the struggling Corinthians:
“Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement,”
Good letter for us to read these days.