Saturday, July 5, 2014

The light burden of Christ

With our celebration of the Solemnity of Sts Peter & Paul last Sunday, which feast is a fixed observance, that is, the Church celebrates it on 29 June each year, we finally enter our long summer and fall season of Ordinary Time. I think it's important to point out that when it comes to the liturgical year, the Church does not use the word "ordinary" in the sense of opposing it to "extraordinary." In other words, the time we're now observing is not "Ho-Hum Time." The word "Ordinary," when applied to a season of the liturgical year takes its name from the word "ordinal."

In set theory, for example, an ordinal number "is the order type of a well-ordered set." The order type of the well-ordered set of the season of Ordinary Time are Sundays. This Sunday is the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Prior to the reform of the liturgical calendar that occurred after the Second Vatican Council, Roman Catholics counted Sundays after Pentecost. Today would be the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. Anglicans number their weeks for this time of the year in a similar manner- from Trinity Sunday (i.e., Third Sunday After Trinity).

There is nothing ordinary, at least not in the way we usually employ this word, when it comes to Ordinary Time. The great Paschal mystery is anything but ordinary in that sense. The trouble with writing all that is it can have the tendency to undermine the message of today's readings by making all of this sound like hard work. It isn't hard work, not in the least. Does it require something of us? Sure! But one does not need to be wise or learned to grasp that we order our time from one Sunday to the next. One does not need to be learned to understand that for His disciples, Jesus Christ's resurrection is the axis around which our lives revolve. By His death, resurrection, ascension, and sending His the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ has changed our lives forever.

Jesus did all of that for you, not to load you down, but precisely to lift your burden, the heaviness of an existence lived against the horizon of death. We are called, as St Paul noted in his Letter to the Romans, not to live according to the flesh, but according to the Holy Spirit. The Apostle's injunction not live according to the flesh does not mean wandering around in some sort of quasi-mystical trans-like state. The Greek word the apostle employed (sarx) here does not refer to the body (the Greek word for "body" is soma). Hence, to live by the Spirit does not mean to live a disembodied existence, far from it.

In his magnificent Theology of the Body, Pope St John Paul II wrote about what it means to have the "Gift" of the Holy Spirit. "The fruit of redemption is indeed the Holy Spirit, who dwells in man and his body as in a temple" (Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body 350-351). It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, he asserted, that makes every Christian holy. You can't earn holiness. This is, at least partly, what Jesus can be understood to say in today's Gospel. You can only be made holy by the power of the Holy Spirit, which you can only receive as gift. Even the desire, let alone making the effort, to cooperate with the Spirit's work in you is a gift from God, a charism, if you will.

Pope St John Paul II was insistent that St Paul firmly held that the gift of the Holy Spirit "gives rise to an obligation" (351). John Paul II noted that in the sixth chapter of his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle "refers to this dimension of obligation when he writes to believers," those "who are aware of the Gift, to convince them not commit 'unchastity,' not to 'sin against their own bodies'" (1 Cor 6:18). Paul was adamant- "The body is not for unchastity but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (1 Cor 6:13). But the point, whether we talking about chastity, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:23- the Greek word translated as "self-control" transliterated is egkrateia- refers a person who masters her/his desires and passions, especially his/her sensual appetites), or anything else, is the person who is alive in the Spirit lives an embodied life. Pope St. John Paul II, referring back to the Apostle's assertion about our bodies being for the Lord and the Lord for our bodies, observed-
It is difficult to express more concisely what the mystery of the Incarnation implies for every believer. For this reason, the fact that in Jesus Christ the human body became the body of the God-Man has the effect of a new supernatural elevation in every human being (Man and Woman 351)

How is that easy? I think that the phrase attributed to St Augustine, which is so often distorted by being shortened, helps us: "Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved." This is perfectly consonant with Jesus' two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matt 22:37) and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt 22:39). Jesus taught that on these two commandments depend the "whole law and the prophets" (Matt 22:40). The question is never whether God loves me. Rather, the relevant question is, "Do I love God?"

Indeed, such wisdom is hidden from the learned and the wise and given to those who listen first with the ear of their hearts to the only One who can redeem them body and soul, who came to give everyone life eternal. Let's live the Paschal mystery, which living is always extraordinary.

No comments:

Post a Comment

A political non-rant

In the wake of yesterday's Helsinki press conference, which, like a lot of my fellow U.S. citizens, as well as many people abroad, left ...