Father Michael's Number Three Rule for the Interior Life: Be Yourself.
Lessons from cycle II of the feria, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite:
I Corinthians 2: 1-5.
Psalm 119: 97-102.
Luke 4: 16-30.
The Twenty-Second Monday of Ordinary Time.
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10:43 AM 9/1/2014 — We have today a lovely Gospel lesson of which we could all speak volumes, but we've been looking recently at St. Paul in Corinth; and, if it's all right with you, I'd like to stick with him, at least for today.
Just to 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 Apostle 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 are reading, was written after he had left there, and today St. Paul indulges in a little retrospective regarding when he first got there.
He's actually continuing today the theme he was on about in the lesson for 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. Father Paul, whom you'll remember served on a Native American reservation, will tell you, I'm sure, that one of the quickest ways to loose the respect of those people is to pretend to be one of them when you're not: the priest who dresses up in war paint and feathers and who goes dancing down the isle of the church to the beat of tom-toms may think he's being relevant when, in reality, they're all looking at him and thinking, “Doesn't that white boy look silly?!”
So, St. Paul becomes very candid and transparent today, 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—which, as we observed last week, was the “new Athens”—was going to be different. If you'll permit me, I'd like to repeat the 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).
So, the lesson for us we could say is Father Michael's Number Three Rule for the Interior Life. I've given you the first two: (1) mind your own business, and (2) don't look for the results of your efforts. Today you have the third: be yourself. Don't try to pretend to be something you're not. St. 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.