January 18, 2015 - 2nd Sunday:
The Corinthians proved to be an ongoing challenge as a young Christian community for Saint Paul. Trying to assure their fidelity to the Gospel he had preached to them, constrained him to treat of a wide variety of issues in the two lengthy epistles he sent them. Concern for their welfare gave him a good deal of anxiety; it also gave rise to the more positive result in that it stimulated his pastoral efforts to maintain their perseverance in the true Gospel teachings. Prominent among these is the duty to maintain unity of purpose among their selves. This concern is prominently conveyed to the offending members of the Church. This correspondence has resulted in our having from his pen practical insights that encourage us to live out the revelation given us in Christ. We find in today's reading from his first letter to that community one of the more basic doctrines of our Catholic religion: by loving faith we already belong to the Savior and consequently are in union with all those who put their faith in him. By way of confronting the divisions among the Corinthian believers, Paul insists on the fact that in virtue of our living adherence to Christ we are joined to him in so intimate a way as to form a single mystical body. He states the teaching in these words that we heard a few minutes ago: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him."
Later in his ministry the apostle to the gentiles elaborated in varied circumstances the implications of this fundamental truth. Having encountered the person of Christ is so impressively dramatic a revelation at the time of his conversion, Paul continued to gain insight into its implications over the years. The words Jesus addressed to him in the form that was as much a complaint as an accusation were so deeply lodged in his soul that they remained a source of ever fuller understanding of the mystery of Jesus the Christ. Paul's understanding of the faith, as a result, was highly personalized. Belief for him was not primarily a commitment to doctrines; concepts and ideas took their significance from their casting further light on the person of the man who is the Savior. He came to grasp with binding conviction that the Jesus who accosted him was not only his Savior, but was the Savior of all persons, Jews and Greeks alike, women as well as men.
Inevitably Paul's early formation had resulted in his having a deeply rooted sense of being a Jew, and, as he put it in his Letter to the Philippians, he had reason to boast of his credentials as a child of Abraham: "Circumcised on the eight day, born of the race of Israel, belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrew parents; as regards the law, I was a Pharisee." (3:5) He cites these credentials, however, only to bring out the more impressively that all such distinctions cease to be meaningful for those who are in Christ. He puts the matter in strong terms as he adds that" what had been a gain for me I have judged to be loss in Christ because of the eminent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord." Real value, he has come to appreciate, is measured by the justice acquired through faith that gives knowledge of him and the power of his resurrection, along with being united with him in his suffering and death.
Paul's emphasis on the need to be disposed to share in our Lord's sufferings and even death takes on a more lively pertinence at this time when Christians in Moslem countries and even in certain parts of our Western society are suffering persecution for their faith. The recent violence in France and the more destructive massacres in Nigeria have brought to public consciousness the latent passions in our modern world that continue to fester beneath the surface of life.
May the graces of the message Paul inculcated in the Church and Roman society of his times strengthen our dedication in faith to Christ's teaching and example so that we, empowered by our communion in this Eucharist, may witness effectively to that unity that only God our Father can bring to fulfillment.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger