|Just Because You're Paranoid Doesn't Mean They're Not All Out to Get You (& Father Michael's Fifth Rule for the Interior Life).
The Twenty-Second Wednesday of Ordinary Time.
Lessons from the secondary feria, according to the ordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• I Corinthians 3: 1-9.
• Psalm 33: 12-15, 20-21.
• Luke 4: 38-44.
The Third Class Feast of Saint Raymond Nonnatus, Confessor.*
Lessons from the common "Os justi…" of a Confessor not a Bishop, according to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite:
• Ecclesiasticus 31: 8-11.
• Psalm 91: 13-14, 3.
• Luke 12: 35-40.
The Fifteenth Wednesday after Pentecost; and, the Feast of the Deposition of the Venerable Belt of the Most Holy Mother of God.**
First & third lessons from the pentecostarion, second & fourth from the menaion for the Theotokos, according to the Ruthenian recension of the Byzantine Rite:
• Galatians 6: 2-10.
• Hebrews 9: 1-7.
• Mark 7: 14-24.
• Luke 10: 38-42; 11: 27-28.
8:47 AM 8/31/2016 — It occurs to me that one of the impressions that you might get as we plow through this First Epistle to the Corinthians is that the Blessed Apostle Paul was a man who held a grudge; after all, how long is he going to whine about being chased out of Athens? but, I think it's incumbent on us to understand how his personality effected his method of evangelization. Remember that Paul starts out with something of an inferiority complex: prior to his conversion, the criterion for being recognized as an apostle was that one personally knew our Lord during his time on earth, and Paul is not converted to Christ until after the Ascension. His claim to be an apostle—from which derives the right to go around establishing Churches, baptizing converts and consecrating bishops—is based on the idea that his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus constitutes a personal acquaintance with Christ equal to that enjoyed by the Twelve. This was not something that was accepted by many of the Christians in Jerusalem; and, it wasn't until Paul made a trip to Jerusalem and presented his case to Peter that Peter laid hands on him and confirmed his status as an Apostle, which is all recounted for us by Saint Luke in Acts.
You'd think that this would have settled the issue, but it didn't, which is why so many of Paul's letters in the New Testament are concerned with battling other Christians. There were groups of Christians—perhaps even several—following Paul around; he would arrive in a city or town, preach the Gospel, make converts and baptize them, choose one of his own disciples traveling with him to leave behind as the new bishop of the place, then move on; then these people following him would move in and tell everyone Paul had baptized that he had no right to baptize them without first circumcising them and making them Jews, and that they needed to abstain from pork do all sorts of other Jewish things. When Paul complained about this to Peter in Jerusalem, Peter condemned the practice; but, the Church in Apostolic times was, in many ways, just like the Church today: just because the Pope says something doesn't mean everyone's going to fall in line and obey.
Knowing this situation makes it a little easier for us to decipher some of what we read in Paul's Epistles. So many of his letters, for example, begin with him talking mostly about himself, how he was once a Pharisee, how he once persecuted the Church, how his conversion came about, and especially waving in front of everyone's face this decree from Peter declaring him to be a true apostle of Jesus Christ, authorizing him to pretty much do whatever he wants in the name of the Church. That is not him being braggadocious. He's writing these letters to people whom he had already converted, but whose conversions were under threat of being undone by—of all people—other Christians who were claiming that Paul had no authority to do what he was doing.
You have to admit that this is going to make even the most well-adjusted fellow just a little bit paranoid. There's an old saying: “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not all out the get you.” That is not, by the way, Father Michael's Fifth Rule for the Interior Life, so don't write that one down.
For those who are here every day, I would like you to take everything I've just said and file it somewhere, because we're going to refer to it later, since we're going to be wading through this First Epistle to the Corinthians for the next two weeks.
Today's first lesson is the beginning of Chapter three of this letter, and here the tone of the letter changes. He's not whining about Athens anymore;—thank God—he begins now to address some of the specific issues his converts in Corinth were having since he left them. As I mentioned to you last Saturday—if you can remember back that far—we're at a disadvantage because we only have one side of the correspondence: Paul is answering questions and handing down rulings about things, but we have to read between his lines to try and surmise what the actual questions were. In the case of today's Mass, however, we get something of an assist from Saint Luke, because, in the Acts of the Apostles, he writes about the very situation that Paul is addressing in our first lesson. When Paul writes to the Corinthians he doesn't have to tell them everything he had done while he was there, since they were all there when he did them; but somebody has to tell us what was going on, and that's what Saint Luke does in Acts. He tells us that, when Paul first arrived in Corinth, he had some initial success among the wealthy Jewish merchants there, but they soon turned against him; he had much better success among the Gentiles there, with most of his converts being from the city's poor and underprivileged. When he left there in the Year of Our Lord 52, he was succeeded by a disciple named Apollos (or Apollo, depending on your translation), a Jewish Christian from Alexandria, who seems to have had a little more success among the Jewish Corinthians, and Saint Luke testifies to his preaching about how Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
Some years later, during his third missionary journey, Paul had returned to Ephesus;—where he had left his friend Timothy in charge—and, while collecting his messages in Ephesus he got some disturbing news about Corinth. Among the many problems he was hearing about—and we're going to be looking at some of them in the next two weeks—was this situation in which the Christians there had become divided into factions, with the members identifying themselves with individual Christian leaders, including Apollo.
Please don't get the impression from this Scripture lesson that Apollo is the bad guy here, because he's not. In all likelihood, it was Paul himself who appointed Apollo to succeed him in Corinth, and he has nothing but good things to say about him, as does Saint Luke. It's not Apollo who is the source of these divisions; it's the Corinthian Christians themselves. They're the ones who are taking something said by Paul, or something said by Apollo, out of context and using it to develop their own little sect of Christianity. This sort of thing goes on in the Church even today; that's, in fact, how most of the Protestant Churches got started. The Apostle's answer to this problem is so simple that we would label it as common sense, except—as it was in Corinth so as it is today—common sense is, apparently, not all the common:
It was for me to plant the seed, for Apollo to water it, but it was God who gave the increase. And if so, the man who plants, the man who waters, count for nothing; God is everything, since it is he who gives the increase. This man plants, that man waters; it is all one (I Cor. 3: 6-8 Knox).
And there you have Father Michael's Fifth Rule for the Interior Life: never forget that everything you do that's good is really done by God.
The last line of this reading is so poetic in the original Greek that, if you know Greek, it can bring tears to your eyes; which is surprising, since Paul's Greek is not that good. He grew up in Palestine, so he knew Aramaic; he was a Pharisee, so he knew Hebrew inside and out; and he was a citizen of Rome, so he certainly knew Latin; but, the last line of today's first lesson in the original is sheer poetry: θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί: θεοῦ γεώργιον, θεοῦ οἰκοδομή ἐστε (v. 9). The translation we have here in the Roman Missal is certainly accurate, but just a little mechanical; Msgr. Knox, in his translation, really captures the elegance of the sentence, and I'll end today with it. Continuing the planting and watering metaphor Paul is using, the Apostle says, “You are a field of God’s tilling, a structure of God’s design; and we are only his assistants.”
* With Ss. Peter Nodasco and Raymond of Pennafort, founders of the Order of Our Lady of Mercy, Raymond Nonnatus is the glory of his Congregation. He gave himself up to the Mohammedans to ransom a Christian, during which captivity Pope Gregory IX created him cardinal. He died upon his return in 1240.
** According to pious legend, the cinture of the Blessed Virgin was discovered in the days of Emperor Justinian (527-565). This feast celebrates not its discovery, but its transfer to a reliquary in Chalcoprateia in 941. As usual, there is nothing to substantiate the legend other than long-standing tradition and popular devotion.