TO ME WAS GIVEN THE GRACE TO PREACH THE UNFATHOMABLE RICHES OF CHRIST. The Epistle to the Ephesians is a work intended for various Churches and envisages a wide audience. Much less personal in tone than other letters of the Apostle, it is best understood as an Encyclical treatise that has a double theme: Christ and his Church are presented in some detail and with obvious enthusiasm. Indeed, Christ is displayed as more than the founder of the Church, he forms a single whole with all his members, being inextricably united with them. He is the head of all the parts that make up the body.Paul is concerned that the many gentiles entering the community of believers are taking life too easily, continuing ways learned in the world. Addressing this situation is one of the reasons Paulís message is so timely today when such a large percentage of Catholics choose rather to adapt to the values and ways of the liberal majority, even in matters clearly counter to the Churchís firm and traditional teaching. There is nothing new in this corrupting influence except the words; Paul encountered it repeatedly in his travels, and warned against going along with the seductive arguments of the early Gnostics whose teaching led many to feel secure while living a life of sexual indulgence. Paul will have none of such easy morality. He writes: ďLet no one seduce you with empty words. Do not associate with such people.Ē (5:6)†††

A further feature of Paulís teaching has implication for Christian prayer and activities. He does not confine himself to warning against falling under the influence of such misleading views, but presents the high and noble vision of the way revealed by Jesus in his teaching and by his actions. He here asserts with enthusiasm that the Church manifests the unfathomable riches of Christ in that it already participates in the heavenly life of the glorified Lord Jesus. The mystery that has been revealed to Paul and stands at the center of his preaching is that we gentiles are called along with the Jews to inherit the new life as children of God. The riches that Christ has won for us consist in our belonging to the body of Christ.This gift of Godís grace is the basis of confidence that we can draw near to God himself.By our faith in the risen Lord we are able to enter into the very life of God even now. The fullness of Christian prayer does not stop at making petitions however necessary and noble they are; rather, prayer is to take us into the presence of God and so affect us that we begin to become familiar with Him and associates of the saints. This prayer leads to the formation of our inner self that prepares us for life with God face to face in eternity. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of this process as a radical restructuring, a metamorphosis. He speaks with heartfelt verve in these words:ďAll of us with unveiled face reflect like a mirror the glory of the Lord and are transformed tin his image from glory to glory.Ē (3:18)††

As the human race advances in history, deeply embedded in the evolving cosmic processes, and the ever shifting forms of nature and society, underlying tendencies, functioning at deeper levels assume fresh forms of expression. Already in his day Saint Paul was sufficiently aware of these trends. His experience of the risen Christ resulted in his possessing an enhanced sensitivity to the continuing active presence of the transcendent mystery of the whole Christ, head and body, operative in this world and functioning throughout the whole of the cosmos. This continuing process of transformation of the individual believers as well as its hidden operations in the whole of the cosmos he refers to as included in the unfathomable riches of Christ that is the essence of his preaching. By the prayer of faith we are able to enter into that region when this secretly active process is daily at work, bringing about the new creation that Christ, by his passion and resurrection initiated and continues to effect. Through his preaching, St Paul tells us in today's reading, this surpassing mystery is now revealed to us who are privileged to be members of the Body of Christ. Not to the wise and prudent, the learned and privileged of this world, but to those with childlike trusting faith are these riches revealed.

This surpassing gift of God's merciful love is what we celebrate in the Eucharist we are offering here today, in thanksgiving for this grace of this revelation, to the praise of his glory. May we prove faithful to the invitation to holiness implicit in this sacrament. ?

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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