|Father Michael's Third & Fourth Rules for the Interior Life: "Be Yourself" & "Never Be Afraid to be Different."
The Twenty-Second Tuesday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the secondary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Corinthians 2: 10-16.
• Psalm 145: 8-14.
• Luke 4: 31-37.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Rose of Lima; and, the Commemoration of Saints Felix & Adauctus, Martyrs.*
Lessons from the common "Dilexísti…" of a Virgin not a Martyr, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• II Corinthians 10: 17-18; 11: 1-2.
• Psalm 44: 5, 15-16.
• Matthew 25: 1-13.
If a Mass for the commemoration is taken, lessons from the proper:
• Wisdom 10: 17-20.
• [Gradual] Wisdom 3: 1-3.
• Luke 10: 16-20.
The Fifteenth Tuesday after Pentecost; a Postfestive Day of the Beheading of John the Baptist; and, the Feast of Our Holy Fathers Alexander, John & Paul the Younger, Patriarchs of Constantinople.**
Lessons from the pentecostarion, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Galatians 5: 11-21.
• Mark 7: 5-16.
8:33 AM 8/30/2016 — Yesterday’s memorial, the Passion of Saint John the Baptist, carried with it a Gospel lesson proper to the day which had to be read, and in which our discussion of Saint Paul’s second missionary journey would have seemed out of place. Were that not the case, I would have continued with our revisit—two years after the fact—of some of Father Michael’s rules for the interior life. In order to continue, we have to endure a bit of a review.
We had looked at the history of this great city of Corinth, what it had been in the past, what it had become at the time the Blessed Apostle Paul arrives there. We had also looked at what had happened to the Apostle on his way there, during his preaching tour through Greece, and how it had been, up to that point, a colossal failure, particularly in Athens, on which he had pinned such hope. Of course, his First Letter to the Corinthians, from which we had been reading last week, was written after he had left there; and, in the lesson that would have been read yesterday (I Cor. 2: 1-5) Saint Paul indulges in a little retrospective regarding when he first got there, continuing the theme he was on about in the lesson from last Saturday's Mass, wherein he had warned them about trying too hard to fit in, about feeling inferior next to the sophisticated elite who had the leisure to debate the finer points of Greek philosophy. And you might recall that he's on about this because he's still bitter about the rejection he received in Athens when he tried to be too sophisticated for his own good, preaching in the Temple of the Unknown God. He thought, initially, that he was doing good by trying to present Christianity as a competing philosophy, presuming that it would be helpful to present the message of Jesus Christ in a language the Greek philosophers would understand. They understood it, alright; they rejected it as silly, which, in all honesty, it was; and Paul had come to realize that.
Recall our initial observation that there is really no profound theological truths contained in Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, but a lot insight into his own personality; and, in what would have been yesterdays lesson he becomes very candid and transparent, revealing to the Corinthians what his attitude was when he first arrived there, all twisted around inside because of his rejection in Athens. He had learned a valuable lesson, and had already determined that his approach in Corinth was going to be different. If you'll permit me, I'd like to repeat yesterday’s reading for you in Msgr. Knox's translation:
So it was, brethren, that when I came to you and preached Christ’s message to you, I did so without any high pretensions to eloquence, or to philosophy [like I did in Athens]. I had no thought of bringing you any other knowledge than that of Jesus Christ, and of him as crucified. It was with distrust of myself, full of anxious fear, that I approached you; my preaching, my message depended on no persuasive language, devised by human wisdom, but rather on the proof I gave you of spiritual power; God’s power, not man’s wisdom, was to be the foundation of your faith (I Cor. 2: 1-5 Knox).
And it’s at this point that I would’ve repeated for you Father Michael’s Third Rule for the Interior Life. The First Rule was “mind your own business,” the second was “don't look for the results of your efforts,” and yesterday—were it not for the memorial—I would’ve reviewed for you the third: “be yourself.” Don't try to pretend to be something you're not. Saint Paul tried it with the Athenians and it was a dismal disaster. When he got to Corinth, which was an Athens wannabe, he took a different approach, presenting both himself and the Gospel for what they were; and, the results, as we had already observed last week, were astounding.
We had begun this journey, if you will recall, in Thessalonica, where the Apostle had to intervene in a dispute about when the Second Coming of Christ was to occur; and, his admonition to the disputants was as practical and down-to-earth as it could possibly be, reminding them that, as long as one is in the State of Grace, what difference does it make? Nor is it seemly, he told them, that a Christian be the kind of person who is attracted to discussions about controversies or intrigue or esoteric speculations about the end times. In his best Yoda impersonation, he tells them, “A Jedi craves not these things.” When Christ comes again is His affair; as long as our souls are prepared, we don't need to worry about it; or, to put it another way, a Christian should learn to mind his own soul and his own business.
Even so, he didn't make a whole lot of converts in Thessalonica, and even less in Philippi and Athens, at least not while he was in those places; but, it seems the seeds of the Faith which he planted bore fruit later, reminding him—and us—that we shouldn't always look for the results of our efforts to manifest themselves. Athens, in particular, was where he had hoped to have the greatest success, given that the city was already steeped in philosophy, and where he thought the spiritual realities of the Gospel would find a welcomed audience; but, he makes the mistake of trying too hard to accommodate the Faith to that philosophical mindset, which results in the Faith being held up to ridicule.
Ironically, his greatest success comes in what should have been, by all rights, the toughest nut to crack: the depraved and debauched city of Corinth; and, his success there is precisely because he doesn't try to accommodate the Faith to the culture he finds there; he presents himself and the Gospel in a simple and straight-forward manner—or, has he puts it, without relying on worldly wisdom—and makes scores of converts. The lesson there, of course, was the necessity of being oneself. He reminds his converts in Corinth, writing to them afterward, of how and why he had failed in Athens, impressing upon them the need to resist the temptation of always trying to fit in, of being with the “in” crowd, and always trying to appear relevant and current in the secular sense by addressing every issue of the day, as many of our Church’s leaders try to do today to the detriment of the cause of Christ.
Today's lesson kind of sums all this up by reminding the Christians in Corinth that, if they stick to this plan, they are going to be regarded as different. He goes on a little bit more about the difference between worldly wisdom and spiritual realities;—that's because he's still smarting about how he was treated in Athens—but, his real point today is how important it is for the Christian to not be concerned with how he is perceived by others. We have to tread lightly here because the Christian whose behavior is too odd, too esoteric, too bizarre, is going to hold the Faith up to ridicule; but, at the same time, if the Christian is truly committed to his Faith, he can't avoid being perceived by others as just a little bit odd because his view of life and the world around him is going to be different:
Mere man with his natural gifts cannot take in the thoughts of God’s Spirit; they seem mere folly to him, and he cannot grasp them, because they demand a scrutiny which is spiritual. Whereas the man who has spiritual gifts can scrutinize everything, without being subject, himself, to any other man’s scrutiny (I Cor. 2: 14-15 Knox).
I like the way Msgr. Knox has translated that passage: he “cannot take in the thoughts of God's Spirit….” He can't take it in because his brain can't process spiritual realities. It's like trying to feed numbers into a computer that doesn't have a math program installed on it; it doesn't know what to do with the numbers, so it just crashes.
Professor Alice Von Hilderbrand wrote a text book on The Philosophy of Religion which I read in college, and in her introduction she comments on the encounter between our Lord and the man born blind, whom she reminds us is different from someone who looses his sight later in life. The person who could once see but now can't can at least form a mental picture from memory of whatever is described to him, but the person who has never seen … how does he do that? She asks the question: how would you describe to someone who has never seen what a color is? Here is something that doesn't change the shape or texture of a thing, but still makes it somehow different. A person who has never had the gift of sight can't process that; there's nothing in his experience that could possibly make that intelligible to him. This, she says, is precisely what happens when you try to explain the interior life to someone who has never received the gift of faith: the brain simply doesn't have the program it needs to process the information.
So, the Apostle is explaining to his spiritual children back in Corinth that they need to simply accept the fact that, to a certain extent, they're never really going to fit in. Being a Christian gives one a perspective on life that those who do not share the Faith are incapable of understanding, and that this will, by necessity, result in a certain degree of loneliness and isolation. The Christian deals with this, of course, by means of his deep, personal friendship with his Lord.
So, Father Michael's Fourth Rule of the Interior Life:—which is just an amplification of the Third—never be afraid to be different.
* St. Rose was commemorated in the ordinary form on Tuesday of last week, in the post for which a brief biography of her may be found.
St. Felix was a priest of Rome who suffered under the Emperors Diocletian & Maximian. Finally condemned to death, he was joined by an unknown Christian at the last momment; though his true name is unknown, the Church has given him the name Adauctus. They were beheaded together in the year 303.
** Alexander, born most likely in 238, secceeded Methodius to the See of Constatinople in 314, dying in 337. John, a Cappadocian, was elected on the Tuesday after Easter in 518, and died in 568. Paul the Younger (sometimes called Paul the Latter) became patriarch on the Second Sunday of Lent in 780, retiring to a monastery soon afterward and dying in 784.