Paul on Paul – 29th November 2020

1st Sunday in Advent; Year B
1 Corinthians 1:3-9

May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ send you grace and peace. I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ. I thank him that you have been enriched in so many ways, especially in your teachers and preachers; the witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you so that you will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed; and he will keep you steady and without blame until the last day, the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, because God by calling you has joined you to his Son, Jesus Christ; and God is faithful.


HAPPY NEW LITURGICAL YEAR!

This Sunday is the first of year B in the Church’s 3-year liturgical cycle – which focusses on the Gospel of Mark the shortest and the earliest of the Gospels.

New Years – in any context – are a time for reconsideration. We look at what has happened in the past year, look at what we have and resolve to do better next year. Perhaps, this weekend, we can use the 1st Sunday of Advent – and in particular this opening passage from one of Paul’s most famous letters can guide our reflection.

Paul is sending this letter to the early Corinthian Church, having received a request for guidance from them. Some have sought to divide members of the church, to create divisions in the body of Christ. Others are trying to justify unjustifiable behaviour by mis-applying or deliberately obscuring the lessons Paul had given them. As some, as we have looked at before, are even beginning to doubt the Resurrection itself!

The parallels to our own world (even the Church today) are unmistakable. Immoral behaviour excused as reasonable misunderstanding; attempts to divide people into good and bad, deserving and undeserving, better and worse. And sometimes, a real misunderstanding of the role of the Church in the world and, as Catholics, in our lives. The problems we have faced in the past year, and will almost certainly face in the next one, are the very same problems Paul is facing when setting pen to 1st Century paper here.

But what does Paul do? St Paul was not a speedy man. He didn’t, as I suspect the Corinthians had wanted, come down easily and decisively on one side or the other and put an end to disputes – but slowly, methodically over the course of 16 chapters answers what is asked of him. Sometimes the issues we most immediately face are not the things we have to answer to really get to the heart of something. They can be symptoms of a deeper unease or discomfort – with relationships, with other people, with ideas or even with the Church. We cannot simply deal with the smaller problem and hope the big one goes away – we must be like St. Paul and (sometimes) go the whole 16 chapters to set things straight.

This is daunting. We are not St. Paul. But we can always start the way St Paul starts this letter, and every other letter recorded in Scripture – by thanking God for what we have. For the grace and peace he has given us when over the past year when we really needed it; for the ‘teachers and preachers’ – those who have helped us when we needed it, be they parents, children, friends, colleagues, councillors, services, or people we didn’t even know; for the gifts that have come to us over the past year (even if they were in disguise) – out new-found computer literacy, new common interests, a new understanding of ourselves.

And then, we can remember that we are not here though some accident of God – that we are here with purpose. That God, who is faithful, is with us. In 4 weeks’, we celebrate that very thing quite literally at Christmas where we welcome the Emmanuel. And as we enter a New Year the thing that we may want to bring forward from this one – because goodness knows there may not be much – is the fact that while we may have felt separated from God when unable to attend Mass, God has never been separated from us, for He is faithful.

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