"In verbo veritatis" (2 Cor 6:7)

July 30, 2021

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – July 25, 2021 – St. John’s, Goshen
The other day I sent a priest-friend a note that the second reading today is “providential,” meaning that St. Paul’s exhortation to unity is more than ever needed in our Catholic Church these days. The controversy these days over the restrictions Pope Francis has placed on the celebration of the old Latin Mass is only one among many others on which Catholics have disagreed since the Second Vatican Council. These disagreements, as you certainly can see from the Internet websites, sometimes become passionate, even angry, even ugly, with dismissive adjectives. Sometimes they are over internal Church matters; sometimes they’re over matters in our everyday world, like political issues; sometimes they’re over the intersection between Church and world. Sadly it often seems that positions on all such matters become more important than what Catholics hold in common.

Other letters of St. Paul, as well as other NT writings, reveal that in the early Church there were divisions, some of them as crucial and as passionate as the ones we see in our Church today. So we shouldn’t idealize the early Church as if it were some sort of golden age. Those early writings also reveal, however, how the apostles tried to deal with division, and we have a beautiful example of that in our second reading. It is worth going over somewhat slowly.
St. Paul begins with a general exhortation: “Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,” he says. He is setting out the criterion, the standard, by which to decide how they are to live their lives. That criterion is set by what God has done for them: they have received a “call”, or putting it the other way around, God has called them, called them into a new relationship with him–all those blessings we have heard described in the last few Sundays–peace and reconciliation with God, the overcoming of enmity between Jews and Gentiles, a new relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters. This is God’s gift in Christ, and Paul wants the Ephesians to “live in a manner worthy of the call they have received.” The initiative is with God and his grace: their responsibility was to live up to the gift already given.

What such a life must be is then described: “with all humility and gentleness and patience.” Humility, gentleness, and patience: three virtues that are not self-assertive, but the contrary: humility–not putting ourselves above others; gentleness–not acting harshly toward others; patience–putting up with others, tolerating them, “bearing with one another through love.” And the three virtues are for the sake of preserving “the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.” There does not seem to have been a single issue that was threatening that “unity of spirit”, but St. Paul was sure that there could be moments when it would be in danger.

And that is why he sets out the grounds of that unity. Listen to them again: “one body and one Spirit, one hope; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” These are the things that made that group of men and women a community: it wasn’t their race or their ethnic background; it wasn’t their economic condition; it wasn’t their political status–then, as now, there could be great differences among them in all these respects. But something brought them together, despite all such differences, across such differences, something made this group of people more than a hap-hazard group such as the people who might find themselves in the same subway car or on the same elevator. These many people, despite all such differences, were a community, a unity on the level of meaning and value, because they believed the same things about themselves, about the world, about God and because they wished to try to live lives in accord with what they believed.

They were, then, one body enlivened by one Spirit and with one hope; they had one Lord, Christ, who had reconciled them to the Father; through one baptism, they enjoyed a new life in the one Spirit; they aspired to the one goal of salvation; they had the one and same God whom they could call their one Father. They had all these things in common, and in virtue of all these blessings, they were a community which Paul did not hesitate to call the Body of Christ. St. Paul wanted them to live lives worthy of such blessings.

Let’s go back to those three virtues: humility, gentleness, patience. Let’s not assume that we are always correct but learn to listen and learn from others; let’s speak gently, respectfully; let’s be patient, tolerant, toward those with whom we disagree. If we had more of these virtues, if we focused more on what we have in common than on what divides us, if we recognized that others have been as blessed as we, with the same blessings–then we would have, we would be, a Church worthy of the God who has been so generous to us, to us all.

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