Sexagesima Sunday —27 January AD 2008
“My grace is sufficient for you, for strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
I’ve always like the epistle read at
today’s Mass. Some of you have heard me refer to it as “Saint Paul’s
adventure story.” Like all of the stories of the martyrs, it is
inspiring to hear about all of the difficulties men and women have been willing
to put up with—even to the point of death—for the Faith of Christ.
Saint Paul was, of course, alive when he wrote about his perils in the
wilderness and in the sea; his perils from false brethren, from the
gentiles, and the Jews; his shipwrecks and scourgings. We know that
eventually he was put to death on the same day as Saint Peter. Peter was
crucified because he was not a Roman; upside down because he asked not to
be given the honor of appearing to die as Jesus did. Paul, a Roman
citizen, died more mercifully, by the sword.
I’ve always been edified by Saint
Paul’s story, but only recently it occurred to me that he is an unusual
example of a religious person living both an active and a contemplative life.
Often, we speak of two different kinds of life for religious people.
We associate the contemplative
life with people living in relative seclusion—usually cloistered religious,
who have little contact with the world outside of the monastery or convent.
Self support is getting more difficult in the modern world, but traditionally,
they support themselves with their own labor, chiefly agricultural, perhaps with
some craftwork to be sold in a monastery store, or through an outside
go-between. The cloistered religious spend most of the rest of their time
in prayer: private prayer, the Mass, the Divine Office, and spiritual
reading (lectio divina). Because they are relatively undistracted,
and have the time and the means for such prayer, the cloistered religious have
the opportunity to develop close union with God in the “contemplative
prayer” which gives them the name of “contemplatives.”
Contemplative vocations and cloisters in
which to live such vocations are getting rather rare in modern days—so please
pray for more men and women to be inspired with the desire to enter the
contemplative life. The prayers of the contemplatives are essential in
this modern world where few take even a little time each day to pray in
adoration, thanksgiving, reparation for sin, and petition for the needs of
On the other hand, when we speak of the
“active life,” we may mean the vocations of men and women who do any
number of things, for the love of God, while living in the world. The
parish priest has an active vocation, as do the teachers and nurses and
missionaries and others. For the most part, religious in the active life
daily deal people in the world around them. The may live in house with
other religious, perhaps praying the Office together when circumstances allow,
or perhaps praying it alone whenever a break in the day’s work permits.
Their daily Mass is likely to be offered in a parish church, or the chapel of a
school or hospital, rather than in any secluded place.
Please pray for religious vocations to
the active life as well, for they are also getting scarce in the modern world,
and Catholics are finding themselves unable to attend a true Mass or to get a
really Catholic education for their children.
Missionary activity is way down, and nursing religious are becoming rare.
But to return to Saint Paul, and his
“adventure story,” it is clear that Paul lived—and, presumably others,
today, do live—lives in which both intense activity and deep
contemplative prayer compliment one another. Because in addition to all
the “perils” and the “shipwrecks” Saint Paul speaks of being “caught
up into paradise ... the third heaven ... hearing [words of God] that no man may
repeat. He was describing a prayer of deep union with God—a union that
would sustain him in spite of his perils and tribulations, and in spite of his
physical maladies—for God was making Himself known to the world through Paul;
demonstrating His perfection in Paul’s weakness.
To be sure, Paul, and all of the
Apostles, worshipped God in Jesus Christ. But, on some level, it is
appropriate to think of them as “partners” with Jesus Christ.
Perhaps only “junior partners,” but “partners”
nonetheless. They joined Him in preaching the Gospel. They joined
Him in the sufferings and difficulties of life—most of them in His death.
They joined Him as priests, offering Him to the father, feeding His followers
with the Bread of life. Following His orders, they preached to all the
nations of the known world, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and
Holy Ghost. They had thrown in their lives together with Jesus Christ.
Nor were the Apostles alone. The
Scriptures record that there were men and women who also joined in supporting
the work of the Apostles. Some traveled with the Apostles, while others
maintained the bases of operations founded by the Apostles in the cities of the
ancient world. Some were deacons and priests and bishops, but many were
lay men and women (particularly the women). The widows were
expected to be Christian examples to the younger women and children.
Some of these men and women are mentioned in scripture—the names of many more
are known only to God.
The firm constancy with which men,
women, boys, and girls were able to face martyrdom suggests that those who are
“partners” with Christ and His Apostles enjoy not only the belief of Faith,
but also close union with God in Charity, and the absolute assurance of Hope.
As with Paul, such Christians are unutterably close to God.
When our Lord described the various
kinds of people represented by the seed sown in today’s Gospel, he enumerated
those by the wayside who never come to believe
those on the rock, who have no root, and fall quickly to temptation
those among the thorns, who hear the word but bring forth no fruit
and those on good ground who bring forth good fruit in patience
Our Lord, of course, spoke by analogy. His parable
mentions seeds: inanimate objects that are powerless to do anything to
change their own situation. They go where the sower throws them, or where
rain washes them, or where the wind or the animals carry them—they do nothing
to move themselves.
But men and women are not exactly like seeds. We have
the intellect and the will to change our location in the “garden.” Our
intellect can overcome disbelief. Our will can overcome temptation.
With prayer we can drive back the thorns that threaten to choke us. Best
of all, we can join our Lord and His Apostles as their partners.
Just like Saint Paul and the other Apostles, priests,
deacons, holy men and holy women, we can decide to accept the difficulties and
tribulations of life just as our Lord did. We can offer the Son to the
Father whenever we attend Holy Mass, we can receive the Bread of Life. We
can bring those around us to Jesus Christ through word and good example.
I cannot promise that we will all be like Saint Paul.
We may not have an adventure story quite like his, but we will have a story
nonetheless. We may not hear “secret words” in “the third heaven,”
but God will give us the knowledge of Himself in contemplation to the degree in
which we are able. He does this for those who have thrown in their lot
with His Son, becoming not only His adopted sons and daughters, but also His
“partners” as we live out the life of grace in this world.
We may possess little of the strength possessed by Saint
Paul—but strength is not at issue. The strength of God Himself will be
perfected in our weakness, if only we strive to live our lives in close union
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for strength is made perfect in weakness.”