Do you want to hear something startling? Go back to yesterday’s readings and look at that excerpt from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.
“If any is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old order has passed away. Now all is new. All of this has been done by God.”
There you have it. We can read many books of theology and Christian asceticism, examine ourselves, constantly check ourselves against the teachings of Jesus but you have it all there in three sentences. Since the resurrection, the relationship between the human family and Almighty God has changed. Human weakness, human frailty still abound. People still stumble and fall but it is not the dreary situation prior to the resurrection. Now our world is filled with faith, hope and charity – faith which gives a true and profound understanding of reality of our relationship with God, hope which gives us a positive optimism about our ultimate union with God and charity which guides us in our dealings with each as we journey towards God.
Paul is not just talking into the wind. It is not that he says those wonderful sentences but seems disconnected from reality. Corinth was a sinful city. The Church in Corinth was a sinful Church and in the midst of that sinfulness and failure, we have Paul’s optimism boiling over.
As we move towards the end of Lent and endeavor to improve ourselves spiritually, it should not be seen as a heavy chore or difficult burden. When we realize that we are actually making progress, we should be thrilled that we are really forming, admittedly in a very limited sense, ourselves in the model of Jesus of Nazareth. Making progress in this area should be a source of joy and enthusiasm and not dreariness.
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26th Sunday (September 25th)
The Church year is beginning to wind down. For many weeks, the Scripture texts presented for our consideration each Sunday morning have provided us with material for thought, self evaluation and, hopefully, self improvement. Occasionally, some of them jump out at us with really startling concepts. Today, is such a day.
The theme of today’s Mass is obedience and the Gospel narrative gives an excellent example of that, but the most important for me personally, is the second reading from the second chapter of St. Paul in which he talks about the obedience and humility of Jesus Christ. St. Paul is writing from prison to his friends and converts in the city of Philippi. The apostle urges them to be united in faith, not to quarrel or fight and pointing out that they can avoid conflict by being humble and generous to each other. Then he referred to Christ’s attitude in those areas.
Christ, “though he was by nature God, did not deem the equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself, took the form of a slave and born in the likeness of men.”
In his preaching, Paul frequently urges us to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ – “For me to live as Christ.” He never asserted that it was going to be easy and in today’s world, such a path is truly challenging.
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Today, we are still in the 16th chapter of Luke and Jesus continues to put tough challenges before his disciples and, of course, through them to you and to me. In the Gospel, Jesus uses the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man, very self-satisfied, ignored the suffering of poor Lazarus at the door of his house. When they both died, it was Lazarus who would be in the “bosom of Abraham” and the rich man would be in torment. The wealthy man was suffering not because he was rich, but because he was selfish and lacking in generosity and justice.
In the second reading, we get a delightful view of how St. Paul is forming his assistant, Timothy. He has sent Timothy to be in charge of the church in Ephesus and Paul cannot himself be there since he is in prison but he does give excellent directions. Every bishop and every parish priest would do well to read this excerpt each day. Paul is telling Timothy to live a life of integrity, piety, faith, love, steadfastness and gentle spirit. He urges him to witness daily to his faith in Jesus Christ and to live life without blame or reproach. This is a challenge that anyone who aspires to be a religious leader, whether ordained or lay, should look at frequently and honestly.
Onward to Jerusalem.
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