Sixteenth Sunday of the Year – July 18, 1971 – CNR
Though all the letters of St. Paul center around Christ, his later letters, written in prison, display a developed, integrated, almost serene conviction that all of history is summed up in him. This is apparent in the second reading in today’s Mass.
Paul calls himself a servant of the Church with the task of announcing the mystery hidden for ages, now revealed to God’s people. Christ is this mystery. “Mystery” refers, not to some puzzle, but to the plan of God working itself out in history, in the flesh and blood of the lives, first, of a people, then of a man, and then again of a new people, the Church. It had its beginnings in the long generations of Israel’s history, preparing for the fullness of time when it became flesh in Jesus Christ. All of the past, Israel’s past, Paul’s past, is illumined by the figure of the One who was to come, the Onewhom Paul announced had come as Lord.
As Christ illumines the past, so he gives sense to Paul’s present, such sense that he can make the astounding claim: “It is now my happiness to suffer for you.” How many people have ever found happiness in suffering? Yet that is the central Christian paradox in Paul’s letters: to rejoice in suffering. It is not masochism; it is only the faith, not easily reached or retained, that Christ has made even suffering purposeful. Out of the pain of the cross has come the glory of the resurrection, and if Paul continues in his own poor flesh the mystery of suffering, it is so that God may continue, in a manner beyond his comprehension, the transforming work of his redemption.
Finally, Christ casts light on the future: “The mystery is this: Christ in you, your hope of glory.” Full manhood in him is our goal as individuals, and in him all of humanity is called to the full measure of its manhood. For Paul, Christ is the goal intended in every movement of the universe, in all the process from the most primitive stirring of life to the loftiest pursuits of mind and heart and will. All things are for him, for through him they were created, and in him they subsist.
This is a vision worth reaching for. At times we permit our faith to be trivialized, to become an everyday thing. In such times, it is good for us to re-read the letters to the Ephesians and to the Colossians, to regain some sense of the awe, of the wonder that Paul found in having been given to see the summation of all things in Christ Jesus our Lord.