Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost—27 July AD 2008
Standing in the Faith of Jesus Christ
Ordinary of the Mass
We have two letters that Saint Paul wrote to the
Corinthians, and another one that was written to them after Paul’s death by
Saint Clement, our fourth Pope. Saint Paul established the Church in
Corinth, in the southern Greek Islands, around 52 AD. The letters
that we have all suggest that the Corinthians were an unruly people, in need of
regular correction to keep them true to the Catholic Faith.
In today’s reading, Saint Paul is reminding them that
they should have a strong belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ—a
miraculous reality that was well attested by a goodly number of witnesses—a
miracle which prefigures the resurrection of our own body on Judgment Day.
Later on in the same chapter he suggests that without the Resurrection of our
Lord, and the general resurrection, there really wouldn’t be much to
Christianity—beyond, perhaps, it ethical system.
But Paul refers here to an entire set of Catholic teachings
that he brought with him to Corinth: “the Gospel that I preached to
you, which also you received, wherein also you stand, through which you are
being saved, if you hold it fast as I preached it to you.”
Paul was adamant about the necessity of receiving and holding on to the
authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ, and also of acting in accord with that Gospel.
He had no silly notions that being saved was a one time thing that one could do
and be sure of eternal salvation—being saved is something that we must work at
all of our Christian lives. He had even stronger words for his converts
among the Galatians (in modern day Turkey): “If anyone ...even an
angel from heaven ... preach a Gospel to you other than that which you have
received, let him be anathema”—literally, “let him go to hell.”
Paul is saying that it is necessary to have the truth, but
also necessary to “stand” in the Gospel. We are to “stand against
the deceits of the devil, and to stand in all things perfect.”
Stand fast in the faith: do manfully and be strengthened. Let all your things be
done in charity.” Sometimes instead of “stand.” he uses the word
“walk.” We are to “walk” in good works.
We are to “walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called.”
We are to “walk not as the Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind.”
We are to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us.” We are to
“walk as children of the light.”
Paul might have liked that modern expression: “You can’t just do the talk;
you’ve got to walk the walk.” Our belief must be correct, and
it must form our practical behavior.
Paul gives us himself as our good example. We can
change our ways and walk in the Gospel. Paul certainly did it. As he
says, he “persecuted the Church of God.” He was the one who held the
cloaks while the Jews stoned the deacon Stephen to death.
He was the one who went to Damascus, hoping to arrest Christians there, and
bring them back to Jerusalem for trial before the Sanhedrin.
But, by the grace of God, Paul came to know Jesus Christ. “By the grace
of God I am what I am, and this grace has not been fruitless in me.”
Indeed, God’s grace was quite fruitful, leading Paul on a number of journeys
through the cities of the Greek Islands and Asia Minor, and even to Rome itself,
the center of the Empire, where he gave his life, a martyr for the Faith of
The Gospel tells us about the healing of a man who was both
deaf and dumb—one who could neither hear nor speak. Our Lord made
something of a ritual out of this healing, something like the Sacraments with
their “matter and form.” “Ephpheta —be thou opened.”
The Church borrows this ritual and incorporates it into Her
baptismal rite. If there is danger that someone might die without Baptism,
anyone can take water and pour it on the forehead, saying, “I baptize thee in
the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” But if
that person survives, he is later brought to church, so that the priest may
“supply the ceremonies” which surround Baptism. This rite of the Ephpheta
is one that is “supplied,” for it suggests a fundamental truth about the
Sacrament. In Baptism we are “opened.” Through the grace of God,
the baptized receive the supernatural virtue of Faith. They are
“opened” to receive God’s truth, so that it might form their lives
according to His plan for us.
Not only are we “opened” to receive the truth,
but also we are “opened” in order to hand it on to others. With
Baptism and the complimentary Sacrament of Confirmation, we are enabled by
God’s graces both to learn and to propagate the truth.
So, in order for the Gospel to be fruitful in us, it is
necessary, first, that we learn it from the Apostles. It must be the
authentic Gospel, and not some other, even if it appears to come from an angel
from heaven! Saint Paul warns us: “there will come a time when
people will not endure sound doctrine, but, having itching ears, will collect
[false] teachers according to their own lusts; they will turn away from hearing
truth, but turn aside rather to fables.”
We must both hear and speak the truth.
It is also necessary that we strive to form
ourselves with the words of the Gospels. It would be utterly useless to
memorize the Gospels, and still behave as though they did not exist. That
implies not only self discipline, but also compassion for those around us.
Finally, it is necessary to recognize that the Gospel will
be fruitful in us only if we seek God’s graces to make it fruitful. Do
not neglect your prayers, your spiritual reading, your good works—do not
neglect the opportunities you have for the Mass and the Sacraments. Saint
Paul was already a man of great learning, but it took God’s grace to make him
a Christian and an Apostle. If we but seek it, God’s grace will do for
us in a similar manner.