Father Michael's Number Eight Rule for the Interior Life: Choose Your Battles Wisely.
Lessons from cycle II of the feria, according to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite:
I Corinthians 9: 16-19, 22-27.
Psalm 84: 3-6, 12.
Luke 6: 39-42.
The Memorial of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Twenty-Third Saturday of Ordinary Time.
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9:28 AM 9/12/2014 — Yesterday we reviewed, at the beginning of that long homily, exactly what the circumstances were in Corinth at the time the Blessed Apostle Paul was there, and what things were like after he left there at the time he wrote this letter. The readings presented as the first lesson for the masses of the last few weeks follow more or less in sequence, but they do skip about sometimes; so, it might be helpful, at this stage in our journey through First Corinthians, to take a step back and survey exactly where we are in this Epistle.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians is divided into four main sections. Remember that all of Paul's Epistles are responses to letters he's received that we don't have, and the first section of First Corinthians is a general comment giving his initial reaction to whatever it is he's received; and this is where he talks about the divisions that have cropped up in Corinth among the Christians, giving them the benefit of his own miserable experience in Athens to make his point. I think it's clear, from the way it's written, that he wasn't asked anything about this issue; he's basically reading in between the lines and reacting to it right off the bat, so to speak, before he even addresses what it is the Corinthians have written to him about. Toward the end of this section, which would be chapters five and six, he does get specific and talks about two matters that they didn't write to him about, but that he's become aware of: one having to do with a case of incest, and the other being the problem of Christians getting embroiled in legal disputes in pagan courts.
The second section of his letter is where he actually begins to answer the questions the Corinthians wrote to him about, and this is where he answers questions about marriage and virginity—which we read two days ago—and the problem of the meat offered to idols, which, as we saw yesterday, was a little more complicated than it appeared at face value; and, he seems to navigate his way around it fairly dextrously.
The third section, which we haven't gotten to yet, deals with the Blessed Eucharist and the celebration of the Liturgy; and, the fourth section is where he addresses the question of heresy, principally about the nature of the Resurrection of Christ, since there were some in Corinth who were a little off on this subject.
He ends the whole thing with a conclusion in which, among other things, he orders them, like any good pastor, to take up a collection and send it to Jerusalem. Remember that he had gone to Jerusalem earlier to get Peter's approval for his activities in Greece, and probably feels that having this collection taken up and sent there is a good way to keep things from changing in that regard, mindful of the fact that he probably still has a good number of enemies in Jerusalem bending Peter's ear complaining about him; and, what better way to keep the Pope on your side then to give him a big, fat check?
Where we are now is right in the middle of that second section in which the Apostle is answering the Corinthians' questions; and, as I said, we only have his part of the correspondence; so, we have to play a little game of Jeopardy to figure out what's going on. We have the answers; what we have to deduce are the questions.
Today's first lesson is really the tail end of his answer to the question of the meat sold by the pagan temples after their sacrifices, which we looked at yesterday; so, we're not going to rehash that. Suffice it to say, sitting far away in Ephesus, he's not able to tell for sure who's right and who's wrong in this argument, so he crafts a compromise solution that probably left everyone unsatisfied, but which he thinks addresses the main points, appealing to the Corinthians' sense of Christian charity to make up for the rest. And in the process he makes mention of the fact that, as an Apostle, he could have very easily decided the matter one way or another in an authoritarian way, but that he chose not to do this because, in questions like these, the Christian is not motivated solely by what's right or wrong, but also what's charitable. So, if you remember from yesterday, he tells them that the people buying the cheaper meat left over from a temple sacrifice do not commit a sin by doing so, since pagan sacrifices are empty and meaningless anyway; but, at the same time, those who are too scrupulous to accept this need to be preserved from scandal, so, the thoughtful and charitable Christian will make the sacrifice of not buying the cheaper meat if that's what it takes to keep the scrupulous people happy. It's kind of like the hysteria that cropped up a few years ago regarding the trademark of the Proctor and Gamble Company, which some poor soul thought indicated that the company was run by Satan worshipers. It wasn't true, of course; but, St. Paul would say we need to be kind to these people anyway because it's not their fault that they're the way they are.
I can only surmise that the Apostle, in his youth, must have been an athlete, because he uses a lot of sports metaphors in his letters. In this very lesson he uses two: one about track and field, reminding us to “Run so as to win” (9: 24 NAB), because close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades; but, right in the same sentence he switches to boxing, and that's the mental picture I really like, not because I like boxing—which I don't—but because it makes his point so clear. As we already observed, later on in this letter he's going to be addressing some very serious issues with the Corinthians: the Eucharist, the Liturgy, the nature of the Resurrection; and they're asking him to get involved in a dispute about cold cuts. And this is where his sports metaphors crash into each other:
Thus, I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (9: 26-27 NAB).
In other words: When I'm in a race, I want to win, but when I'm in a fight, it has to be a fight worth fighting. I didn't become an Apostle, and suffer everything I suffered, and endure all the hardships I've had to endure in training for the mission of traveling across the known world to bring you the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just so I could settle an argument about meat bought at some pagan temple's Tricky Tray. I've got better things to do, and so do you. And tomorrow's Apostolic lesson is where he begins, in his letter, to address those better things, making an almost seamless transition into his discourse on the Blessed Eucharist and the problems the Corinthians were having in the celebration of it.
And there you have Father Michael's Number Eight Rule for the Interior Life, which is, in fact, a cliché that we all know by heart: choose your battles wisely. We don't have to fight every bully that comes down the pike, we don't have to answer every insult lobbed at us unjustly, and we don't have to engage in every argument about the Faith just because we know we're right and the other guy is wrong. St. Paul confesses, in the lesson yesterday, that there is an answer to the question about the meat; there is a side in this argument that's right. But he basically walks away from it, telling them, This is stupid, and I've got bigger fish to fry with you. The cooking metaphor is mine, not his. I guess each preacher uses metaphors based on what's on his mind, and it's close to my lunch time.
So, to paraphrase our Lord, we'll let tomorrow take care of itself.