Tag Archives: Paul the Apostle

God doesn’t demonize

We’re reading Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians and the Gospel of Matthew this week at Mass. Paul’s letter was written about the year 55 AD, 20 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew was written about the year 85 AD, some 40 years later.

Paul’s letters illustrate his practice of going first into Jewish synagogues to preach the gospel. Before his conversion to Christianity, he went to the synagogues as a Pharisee to pursue and arrest Christians. Now members of the Pharisaic movement sharply confront him..

The Gospel of Matthew reflects this same confrontation. Matthew’s gospel was written at a highpoint of Jewish-Christian controversy, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.  Passages from the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel would lead you to think that the Pharisees were Jesus’ fiercest enemies.

In reality, a number of Pharisees, like Nicodemus and Paul himself, became his most important followers, The Pharisees were certainly antagonistic to Jesus in his lifetime; he was angry with them for their blindness to him and his message, but he didn’t see them as mortal, eternal enemies.

We have to read the scriptures with an eye on the time they were written; It helps us understand the hot rhetoric we hear in Matthew’s reading for today.

What lesson can we learn from learn from readings like these? Don’t demonize your enemies. God doesn’t do that and neither should we.

That’s an important lesson to remember today as we look at the Muslim world. Jesus didn’t demonize people; he turned to the thief on the cross, he told the story of a prodigal son, he received back the disciples who abandoned him.,

When we bring the bread and wine to the altar at Mass, we bring to God all of creation, not just a part of it. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,” we say. All creation is God’s creation. He wishes to bless it and see it at peace and harmony. God wishes us to see things as he see them.

God doesn’t demonize.

Sharing in the Sufferings of Christ

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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.

St. Barnabas, June 11

Barnabas was closely associated with Paul the Apostle, the Acts of the Apostles says. In fact, he was Paul’s sponsor. After his dramatic conversion, Paul preached in Damascus, but he was forced out of the city and went to Jerusalem. There the disciples of Jesus received him warily. They “were all afraid of Paul” because he persecuted the followers of Jesus. But 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 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 of them. “They appointed presbyters … 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 along John Mark,, who w but Paul refused to take him, because he deserted them at Pamphylia. So sharp was their disagreement that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and 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.

Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. 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 frequent flyers today, 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. Listen, be quiet, sit still, they say. 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 readers he has to go, he’s off to preach 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)

 

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.

 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 God’s grace 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 recognize the church as God’s church..

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 Mass readings this week continue from the Acts of the Apostles with the story of the Greek-speaking deacon Stephen. 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 new life. The church grows. “The death of Christians is the seed of Christianity.” (Tertullian )

Philip the Deacon, one of those displaced, preaches to the Samaritans north of Jerusalem. Then, led by the Spirit, he converts the Ethiopian eunuch returning home after his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (Wednesday and Thursday} Following Philip’s activity, Paul, the persecutor, is converted by Jesus himself. (Friday)

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

Stephen, Philip, Peter and Paul serve God’s mysterious plan. It’s not human planning. The Holy Spirit is at work.

The gospel readings this week are from St.John’s gospel– segments of Jesus’ long discourse on the Bread of Life to the crowd at Capernaum after the miracle of the loaves. (John 6) In the Eucharist we meet the Risen Christ.  He not only feeds us personally, but a growing church is fed.

Timothy and Titus

Timothy and Titus were companions of St.Paul on his missionary journeys and they continued his mission. Timothy was given leadership of the church at Ephesus; Titus assumed leadership of the church in Crete. We have Paul’s letters to them: one letter to Titus and two letters to Timothy, most likely written from house arrest in Rome.

Like Jesus, Paul never saw himself acting alone or handing on a church that was completely developed. It was a church in transition. That’s why we celebrate the feast of Timothy and Titus on January 26th, the day after the feast of Paul’s conversion. He saw others continuing his work.

The church given into the care of Timothy and Titus would enter a new stage in its growth. Paul and the other apostles were completing their work; now roles of bishops, priests and other ministries began to evolve. The notes in the New American Bible–always worth reading–point to the changing nature of these offices as Timothy and Titus take on the work of Paul, in prison in Rome.

Paul’s advice to Timothy is especially interesting. “Stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

Sounds like Paul is trying to bolster Timothy’s confidence, who is losing his powerful mentor. I also like Paul’s reference in that same letter to Timothy’s mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. Powerful mentors Timothy also should remember.

Timothy and Titus were given “apostolic virtues” by God to continue the work of Paul and the other apostles, the opening prayer of their feast says. And “May we merit to reach our heavenly homeland” by “living justly and devoutly in this present age.” Like them “we” also are given a task –to work for the church’s growth and development in this present age.

We have to remember our mentors and remember too that God “ does not give a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self control.” Like the two followers of Paul, we have to hold on to what we were given, but it’s our turn to continue their work: “Go into all the world, and proclaim the gospel. I am with you always, says the Lord.”

I see in the notes of American Bible 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. I wonder what my mother would say.