Tag Archives: St. Paul

What is Life in the Spirit?

Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday), 12th C. mosaic, Palermo Cathedral, Palermo, Sicily, Italy.

What is Life in the Spirit?

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 145; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30

The theme of littleness runs through the readings this Sunday, from the humble prince of peace riding on an ass to the little ones to whom the Son wishes to reveal the Father. The little ones of the kingdom bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, many in the churches had not yet fully experienced this abundant grace in the Spirit; hence the need to point out its contrast with the fleshly life. After accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior, believers still struggled with pride and other vices. Elsewhere in St. Paul’s letters, contentions and factions also arose among the followers of the “meek” king. Why didn’t a simple assent to truth automatically translate into the transfigured, deified life?

An objective, detached assessment of the spiritual life must admit that baptism is not a magical rite that automatically divinizes a person. It plants a seed of grace that must be continually watered, nourished, pruned and guarded in order to allow it to grow and flourish. Grace is the seed of glory. Seeds can also die in dry and barren ground, and never bear fruit.

Brothers and sisters: You are not in the flesh; on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.

Why would St. Paul use the conditional “if,” unless deification (transformation into Christ) was not automatic, but a process requiring watchfulness and attention?

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

More “ifs” follow, plus the action verb “put to death,” with the Christian as the subject and the Spirit as our Paraclete. The baptized do not follow Christ by riding on his Cross, but by carrying it with him (a “yoke” is made for two) and crucifying the “old man” with its deeds. We have an Advocate to strengthen our spirit. The Greek Fathers used the word “synergy” to describe the process of deification—a mystical work of the human person and the Holy Spirit moving as one.

If the Christian life sounds burdensome, Jesus told us that the life of the little ones is restful:

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

In the Little Way of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, she described the spiritual life as a ride in an “elevator” to heaven, which sounds contradictory to the Pauline battle. But the life of the Little Flower was full of tearful self-conquest. Her testimony of ease and trust in Jesus (her “elevator”) came from a deep resolve to follow him day after day as a little child.

“The Lord lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14).

-GMC

Taste and See

 Icon of Saints Peter and Paul by Mihalko Golev

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Acts 12:1-11; Psalm 34; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

At these words of Peter, an invisible bolt of lightning struck the stage of the world drama and lit it from end to end. The freedom of the omniscient writer and the freedom of the created character in the Story connected in an instant of pure grace. 

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.”

Insight into the divine mysteries beyond sight and sound in a single human mind is a world-changing event more cataclysmic than a tsunami or a pandemic.

“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Recognition of Jesus’ personal identity as the Son of God was like scales falling out of the eyes of Adam. Peter’s profession of faith would be the first match to light the rest of darkened humanity one person at a time. 

Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” is addressed very personally. Faith is not secondhand—what “people say”—but direct experience in the light of grace. 

As the Church grew by the apostolic preaching of Peter and Paul, religion may have become secondhand for some as evidenced by Paul’s strange question to the Romans: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3) Lacking firsthand knowledge by an experience of grace, some were perhaps simply following religious routine. Paul was amazed that some Christians thought it was possible “to continue in sin that grace may abound” (Romans 6:1). There was barely a discernible change in life or outlook before and after conversion in some followers. 

Secondhand religion is like hearing someone else’s testimony that water is cool and refreshing. Firsthand experience is tasting and knowing for oneself that it is cool and refreshing.

Getting to know Christ Jesus is a continual journey in metanoia; spiritual eyes open slowly and gradually. Matthew records that Peter stumbled shortly after his proclamation of faith by refusing to permit Jesus’ passion: “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus commanded sternly (Matthew 16:23). The triple denial and reinstatement of the “rock” as the drama unfolded show how much initial faith needed to mature. 

Peter and Paul gained firsthand knowledge of Christ by sharing in his passion—Peter in prison chains, and Paul as he was “being poured out like a libation.” Both also experienced firsthand the deep peace of Christ in the midst of adversity. After Peter’s dreamlike rescue by an angel he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me…” Likewise, Paul testified, “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.”

The psalmist invites us to join Saints Peter and Paul and “Taste and see how good the Lord is; blessed the man who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).

-GMC

The Conversion of St. Paul

January 25th is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. It came in a blinding moment, so different than the call of Jesus’ other apostles.

Caravaggio’s dramatic painting of Paul on the flat of his back, arms outstretched, helplessly blind is a vivid picture of humanity before God.

Conversion is God’s work; God alone gives the gift of faith.

The first reading for his feast tell the dramatic story of his conversion. (Acts 22, 3-16)  In the gospel of Matthew,Jesus announces why he was called – to preach the gospel to all nations.(Matthew 16,15-18)

“May the Spirit fill us with that light of faith.”

For St. John Chrysostom  “Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue a human being is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardour and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead.

“When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them…

The most important thing of all to Paul was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.”

May God give us that grace .

Today ends the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

May God give us all that grace.

By Faith, Not By Sight

At Mass today we hear St. Paul reflecting on his life in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. “We walk by faith and not by sight,” he says. You can look at yourself by faith or by sight. Obviously, some at Corinth are looking at Paul “by sight,” what they think he is, but Paul sees himself in another way, by faith.

“We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful;
as unrecognized and yet acknowledged;
as dying and behold we live;
as chastised and yet not put to death;
as sorrowful yet always rejoicing;
as poor yet enriching many;
as having nothing and yet possessing all things.”   ( 2 Corinthians 5,1-16)

Some in Corinth see Paul as a deceiver, a nobody, on his way out, beaten, sorrowful, poor, having nothing. Paul sees himself by another light. The NAB commentary on 2 Corinthians says that, though Paul speaks personally he assumes his experience is shared by other people of faith. We’re all called to walk by faith and not by sight.

And so, how do we see ourselves today?

Today, the 58th year of my priestly ordination, I’m beginning a Mission at St. Mary’s Church in Kingston, New York at 7 PM. It’s the last of the Revive Missions sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York that I’m taking part in.

Some would say the church is responsible for the ills of our world, it’s passing away, beaten, a sad thing, having nothing to say any more. But, Paul begins his reflections proclaiming “Now is an acceptable time. Now is the way to salvation.” So, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”

The Body of Christ

body of Christ
“We, though many, are one Body in Christ
and individually parts of one another.” {Romans 12,5-16}

St. Paul often uses the term “Body of Christ” to describe the union of Jesus with his followers. Those who follow Jesus are never isolated, self-sufficient individuals, sent off on their own. They’re united with him and with one another, and the gifts each has are to be shared with all.

Paul offers a lists of these gifts in the Letter to the Romans, read today at Mass:

“if prophecy, in proportion to the faith;
if ministry, in ministering;
if one is a teacher, in teaching;
if one exhorts, in exhortation;
if one contributes, in generosity;
if one is over others, with diligence;
if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

We may see one or other of these gifts in ourselves, but we also need to see them in others too. The danger in our individualistic age is to not recognize our dependence on others and look at someone and think: “I don’t need you,” or “I’m more important than you.” Being in the “Body of Christ” means we need each other.

The World to Come

There was an evangelist on TV a couple of years ago, Harold Camping, who was predicting the end the world. He calculated from the Bible that the world was going to end on May 21, 2011 at 6 PM. It was going to be an awful, terrifying event–fires, earthquakes; everything was going to be blown up and destroyed.

Harold had no use for any the churches. They were taken over by the devil, he said. Read the bible, hold on to it; it was the only thing that would save you, he said.

I remember signs on the buses and on billboards announcing judgment day. It was surprising how many people were paying attention to him. Harold not only had the date wrong; he also had God’s plan for our world wrong.

Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which we’re reading at Mass today, sees such a different picture. (Romans 8, 18-25) Paul speaks of a glory that will be revealed. The resurrection of Jesus has changed the way we look at our death and also the way we see the future of creation itself.

The destiny of the created world is linked to our destiny. It wont be destroyed. “Creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.” It “groans in labor pains” until that day comes, when there will be a “new heaven and a new earth.”

Just as we hope to share in the resurrection of Jesus, we also hope that creation share in it. We ready ourselves now for the future we’ve been promised by a life of loving and caring, a love and care that should extend to the created world. Loving and caring for creation is so urgently needed today, when it suffers from so much human abuse.

“I look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.” Those words of the creed are so important. I look forward, not in fear but in hope. I look forward to sharing in the glory of the resurrection of Jesus. I look forward to a world to come, when the creation we know now shares in the glory we know then.