FEBRUARY27, 2011- 8TH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR: ISAIAH 49:14-15; 1 Cor 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34

IT MATTERS LITTLE TO ME WHETHER YOU OR ANY HUMAN COURT PASS JUDGMENT ON ME. Saint Paul was not making an idle boast when he wrote these words to the Corinthian community. He was simply stating the striking disposition of his character in his dealings with the various encountered in the course of his mission.  In fact, the tone of his letter to the Corinthian community itself provided concrete evidence that Paul did not hesitate to speak out the truth regardless of the risk of offending or even alienating others. He introduced these words with a statement that states the basis of his courageous outspokenness. “One should regard us as servants of Christ and administrators of the mysteries of God.”  This conviction that he was commissioned by Jesus and acting in God’s cause, accounted for the impressive parrhesia, the Greek term that Saint Luke employs to characterize Paul’s confident freedom of speech. Paul himself was quite conscious of possessing this liberty of spirit, both in his preaching and in his actions. He says as much in his second Epistle to the Corinthians (3:12): “I act with much outspoken freedom, unlike Moses who veiled his face.”

As he acknowledged readily, Paul’s inner freedom and public witness even in the face of opposition and hostile attack, was based on his consciousness of being in the service of the living Christ Jesus. Although he obviously displayed much initiative and aggressiveness in his defense of the Jewish cause prior to his conversion, yet he underwent a profound change of character after his encounter with the risen Lord. He suffered intensely once he came to realize that he had been persecuting God’s holy people and so attacked the Lord himself. “Paul, Paul, why do you persecute me” Jesus abruptly challenged him in the vision as he approached Damascus with warrant to arrest Christians. He was so distressed that, as he wrote later, he went off into solitude for some three years before beginning his preaching. While he discreetly avoids speaking of his experience there, it is evident that it was a time of intense self-searching in prayerful assimilation of the grace-filled encounter with the Lord. Through this inner work of the spirit he came to assume a new sense of identity. He found an altogether new source of confidence that replaced his natural self-assurance with that confident sense of freedom resulting from his life in Christ. He thought of himself as having passed through death and now living a new kind of life: “I live no longer myself but Christ lives in me.” (Gal 2.20).

In one way or another, each of us is to follow this same process of an inner transformation that involves a kind of death and rising to a new sense of identity. In his Epistle to the Romans (6:4) Paul makes this point very strongly:  “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” This new life begins, he goes on to affirm, not only after physical death, but even now:  “you should present yourselves to God as living having died already.” (6:13) These words apply to us today as much as ever they were directed to the early Roman Christians. This process of attaining to an inner life that represents a radical change, not only in our behavior, as essential as that is, but in our sense of personal identity.  The capacity for such a profound new way of being in this world is offered us in the sacraments. But, just as Paul had to pass through an extended period of inner struggle in prayer before he attained to the fuller exercise of the life in Christ he had received at his conversion, so we too must assimilate the gift of God’s life in us by our active assimilation of grace through interior prayer. The fruit of grace can ripen within each of us, in God’s Providential workings, only by our active efforts to open up the deep places of our inmost self.  This is the work of the heart that the early monks engaged in by their life in the desert.

Today our American society finds itself in a growing crisis that involves various areas of our life: political, as evidenced both in our relation to Asian as well as mid-Eastern countries, economic, and cultural. The strongly materialist and secularist trends have already weakened the once strong family life we enjoyed, and the Church is being increasingly marginalized and even pressured by hostile forces.  Saint Paul’s word, today reminds us that we are sustained, not by the opinion and approbation of human attitudes but by the life of God within us.  Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel, also calls us to a life of trusting faith in God’ Providential care for us and for his Church. To answer his call for our confidence  we do well to imitate Saint Paul and spend time in prayerful solitude where we enter into the hidden places of our heart to find God there, actively present and preparing us for fuller life with him.

At this Eucharist we receive the grace of welcoming the Living Christ himself within us so that he might further this challenging work of being prepared for the fullness of life with the Father for all eternity.    

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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