Tag Archives: Paul the Apostle

Is Our World Sharing in the Sufferings of Christ?

gohistoric_14912_m

For the next two weeks 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 of information for historians studying the early Christian church. They also offer us a way to reflect on our own church today.

In the easter season we read from the Acts of the Apostles– St. Luke’s overview of the early Christian church. Beginning with the gospel preached in Jerusalem and ending with its reception in Rome, Luke describes its growth after the resurrection of Jesus mainly through the activity of Peter and Paul.

Now, we turn in our lectionary to the church at Corinth, a early church founded by Paul. What was it like?

Drawn from the different peoples flocking to the great Mediterranean port, the community at Corinth was diverse, and a variety of preachers and teachers attracted its members, 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.

This is a church no longer mostly Jewish, though some may have missed the stability a Jewish synagogue brought, despite disagreements over Jesus. As yet there was no bishop administering this church for Paul to contact and work with. He was an apostle, a preacher to the world, speaking as a disciple of Jesus.

Clearly, this is 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.

Is this a church like our own?

As he speaks to the Corinthians, Paul sees their sufferings first, which he describes as “Christ’s sufferings”. He’s experiencing that mystery himself, and in the opening chapters of the Second Letter to the Corinthians (which unfortunately are not well represented in our lectionary) Paul begins with that mystery and returns to it over and over.

Yes, there are problems to be faced, corrections must be made, restructuring must take place, but Paul keeps reminding them they are experiencing the sufferings of Christ. With Christ’s suffering, Paul writes, comes his encouragement.

The sufferings of Christ and the encouragement of Christ. Paul knew them both. Preaching in the province of Asia with some companions, “We were utterly weighed down beyond our strength, so that we despaired of life.”  But with the sufferings came an overflowing encouragement, which inevitably accompanies the sufferings of Christ. “We do not trust in ourselves but in God who raises from the dead.” ( 2 Corinthians 1, 5-11)

Can we see in Paul’s way the right way, the first way, to look at our church and our world today? We’re tempted to quickly stand in judgment, to analyze, to condemn, even to throw up our hands and lose hope in the world around us. Do we need to remember the sufferings of Christ, a mystery that falls on 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.

“In your wrath, remember compassion.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiration, Motivational, Passionists, politics, Religion

The Voice of the Faithful

The mention of Apollos in Saturday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us that Peter and Paul and the other apostles were not the only teachers in the early church. Others brought the message of Christ to the cities and towns of the Roman Empire. Apollos was one of them.

He’s described as an eloquent, learned teacher who came to Ephesus from Alexandria, one of the great centers of Jewish and Christian learning, and drew a following by preaching about Jesus.

But Apollos doesn’t know everything, so an ordinary Jewish couple, Priscilla and Acquila, “took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.”

They were disciples of Paul who supported  him by giving him some work in their tent business. They traveled with Paul and certainly listened to his teaching, but I don’t think they were ever considered teachers as he and Apollos were. They were considered “hearers of the word,” more likely. Well informed, for sure, but still among those we would call today “the faithful.”

Yet, let’s not forget what important teachers “the faithful” are, as Priscilla and Aquila remind us.

I remember a story a priest I knew, a brilliant teacher, told me long ago about a baptism he was conducting for an infant born to a member of his family. His father was the baby’s sponsor and according to the rite then was expected to recite the Creed.

“Can you say the Creed, Dad?” the priest said to his father.

“Who do you think taught it to you?,” the father sharply replied.

Faith can’t survive in this world without the ordinary Priscillas and Aquilas explaining it and  passing it on.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. As its title suggests, the Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places,  they’d be prime targets today for frequent flyer programs and travel sites on the internet.  Always on the go.

The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand,  seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. They tell us to listen and be quiet, sit still. Don’t go anywhere at all.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling his reader that he has to go, he’s off to preach the gospel somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”

But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.

“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.”  (Letter 1515)

 


Leave a comment

Filed under Passionists, Religion

Paul’s Conversion

 

The dramatic conversion of Paul is recalled in today’s  first reading at Mass from the Acts of the Apostles. Luke describes this event three times, acknowledging Paul’s special  role in the spread of the church from Jerusalem to Rome.

Yet, Luke sees Paul’s conversion and ministry as a work of God, who uses the apostle for his own divine purposes. It’s not Paul’s genius or imagination that achieved so much. God’s grace brought him to the ground on his way to Damascus and sent him on his mission.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Jesus says to him. Their meeting caused Paul to be convinced that faith is a gift that justifies us and that the church is the body of Christ. He did not come to those beliefs on his own.

Paul’s great conversion story in Acts introduces a succession of stories recalling the conversion of the gentiles. Though Paul has a prominent part in these stories, he is still an agent whom God sends and constantly empowers.

The Acts of the Apostles is not just a description of the past;  it’s a template for the church of every age. Personalities like Paul and human factors play a part in her growth, but the church’s advance is not principally through human power, reason, or imagination. The power of God’s Spirit guides and supports it through time.

We need to pray and welcome it.

1 Comment

Filed under Religion

Weekday Readings: Third Week of Easter

Monday Acts 6,8-15; John 6,22-29
Tuesday Acts 7,58-8,1; John 6,30=35
Wednesday Acts 8,1-8; John 6,35-40
Thursday Acts 8,26-40; John 6,44-51
Friday Acts 9,1-20; John 6,52-59
Saturday Acts 9,31-42; John 6,60-69

The story of Stephen, the Greek-speaking Christian deacon, begins this week’s readings from the Acts of the Apostles. His fiery preaching against temple worship and “stiff-necked” Jewish opposition to Jesus results in his death and a persecution that drives Hellenist Christians out of Jerusalem. (Monday and Tuesday) But Stephen’s death, like the death of Jesus, brings about greater life. A new growth of the church occurs. “The death of Christians is the seed of Christianity.” (Tertullian )

Philip the Deacon, one of the displaced Christians, brings the gospel to the Samaritans, the marginalized neighbors of the Jerusalem Jews. Then, Philip led by the Spirit converts the Ethiopian eunuch returning from pilgrimage in Jerusalem. (Wednesday and Thursday} Philip’s activity will be followed by the ministry of Paul, the persecutor who is converted by Jesus himself. (Friday)

Before Paul appears, Peter leaves Jerusalem to bless the new Christian communities near the coast. At Joppa he’s invited to meet the Roman centurion in Caesarea Maritima. The mission to the gentile world begins with that meeting. (Saturday)

Luke sees these events as the work of God guided by the Holy Spirit. Stephen, Philip, Peter and Paul serve God’s mysterious plan. It’s not human planning.

The gospel readings this week are from St. John’s gospel, segments of Jesus’ long discourse on the Bread of Life with the crowd at Capernaum after the miracle of the loaves. (John 6)  Rather than read them from an historical perspective, we can see ourselves  in those to whom Jesus spoke that day.

In the Eucharist we meet the Risen Jesus. What he says is meant for us too.

Leave a comment

Filed under Passionists, Religion

Timothy and Titus

Timothy and Titus were co-workers and companions of St. Paul on his early missionary journeys to Asia Minor. Later, Paul entrusted Timothy to lead the church at Ephesus; Titus assumed leadership of the church in Crete. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy and one letter to Titus.

Paul’s main advice to them was to shepherd the whole flock in their care. The old, the young, men and women, the sick and the well, all belong to the church. Jesus Christ came to love and care for them all. Be like Jesus to them, Paul says. That’s still what people in ministry are called to do today.

Like Jesus, Paul never saw himself acting alone; he looked for others to share in his ministry, and so we celebrate the feast of Timothy and Titus after the feast of Paul’s conversion, January 25th.

Some mistakingly consider Paul the founder of the Christian faith rather than Jesus. He’s not. True, he’s a strong personality, as his letters and missionary journeys make clear, but his faith came from the Risen Christ, who revealed himself through the scriptures and heavenly signs.

Paul makes that clear: the church is not his, or Peter’s church, or Apollo’s; it’s the church of Jesus Christ, the Word of God.  Serve the church, Paul says to Timothy and Titus. They are to be “slaves of Christ,” like him their role is, “not to be served, but to serve.” ( Philippians 1,1)

The Letters to Timothy and Titus show a church in transition when the roles of bishops, priests and other ministries were evolving. The notes in the New American Bible–always worth reading–point to the changing nature of these offices.

Reading the notes this time around, I see that the deacons Paul refers to in I Timothy 3, 8-13 may include women as well as men. “This (deacons) seems to refer to women deacons, but may possibly mean the wives of deacons. The former is preferred because the word is used absolutely…”

Why not today? We need women in roles of leadership. I have some in mind who would fit the role very well.

3 Comments

Filed under Religion

St. Barnabas, June 11

Barnabas was closely associated with Paul the Apostle, according to the Acts of the Apostles. Barnabas was Paul’s sponsor. After his dramatic conversion, Paul preached in Damascus, but he was forced out of the city and went to Jerusalem where the disciples of Jesus received him warily. They “were all afraid of Paul” because he persecuted the followers of Jesus. Barnabas believed in him and “took charge of him and brought him to the apostles.” (Acts 9, 26-30)

Later, as great numbers came to believe in Antioch, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas there and, convinced that the Spirit was at work, he went to Tarsus to get Paul. Together they spent a whole year and taught a large number of people. (Act 11, 26)

Then, Barnabas and Paul were commissioned by the church of Antioch to bring the gospel to other places. Their  missionary journey took them to Cyprus (Barnabas’ birthplace) and a number of cities in Asia Minor. They preached in Jewish synagogues with mixed results, but increasing numbers of gentile hearers accepted their message. The Acts of the Apostles highlights Paul’s preaching, but the ministry involved the two apostles. “They appointed presbyters for them in each church” and returned to Antioch. (Acts 14, 21-23)

A dispute arose between them: “After some time, Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us make a return visit to see how the brothers are getting on in all the cities where we proclaimed the word of the Lord.’ Barnabas wanted to take with them also John, who was called Mark, but Paul insisted that they should not take with them someone who had deserted them at Pamphylia and who had not continued with them in their work. So sharp was their disagreement that they separated. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed after being commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He traveled through Syria and Cilicia bringing strength to the churches.” Acts 15, 36-41

Why the “sharp disagreement?” Two strong personalities at odds? Paul’s vision against Barnabas’ vision? A clash like this reminds us that God’s plan advances even as humans disagree.

I find it strange, though, that Paul never mentions Barnabas in his later descriptions of his work. Barnabas, humanly speaking, got him his start.

1 Comment

Filed under Religion