The 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Isaiah 8:23-9:3
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14
Second Reading: 1st Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 4:12-23
To approach life with a sense of style or panache is hard to carry off, but for those who can do it there is the great reward of embedding yourself into the memories of those you meet and of being the topic of conversations long after you depart.
Any 300-pound man who has the chutzpah to appear in public sporting a pair of pince-nez glasses and a flowing cape is a man with the self-confident élan of the heroes of Ancient Greece. Gilbert Keith – G.K. – Chesterton was such a man.
The only things greater than his weight and his ability to live comfortably within his corpulent frame were his intellect and his faith. Wielding his pen with Zorro-like precision Chesterton defended the Catholic Faith with such profound insight that his thoughts are as fresh today as they were when they were written in the first half of the 20th century.
While reading St. Paul’s admonishment of the rambunctious people of Corinth in the second reading of this weekend’s liturgy, it was difficult for me not to think of that giant of a man who spent his post-conversion years writing tirelessly in defense of the Church he loved.
St. Paul warned the Corinthians that they should not involve themselves in rivalries and divisions. Mere disciples had taken the place of Christ in the minds and hearts of many of the faithful in this bustling metropolis, and St. Paul reminds his readers that only Christ is worthy of their worship: “Each of you is saying, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apollos," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
When the Corinthians followed Paul, or Apollos or Cephas (Peter’s Aramaic name) they were following what they liked in the teachings of those individuals with the danger of missing – or intentionally avoiding – what they didn’t like in the full Gospel message. We do the same thing when we compartmentalize the Faith into the little baskets with which we feel comfortable – liberal Catholic or conservative Catholic, traditionalist Catholic or progressive Catholic, Pope Benedict Catholic or Pope Francis Catholic.
Chesterton puts a modern face on St. Paul’s words when he says, “The Catholic Church is the only thing which saves a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” While we might want a Church that agrees with us, what we really need is a Church that, as Chesterton points out, “is right where we are wrong.”
We need a Church that does not blow with the winds of cultural change or hitches its wagon to the Zeitgeist or ‘spirit of the times.’ St. Paul did not put forth the teachings of St. Paul, a culturally-conditioned former Pharisee. Instead, he taught Christ, and that means that he taught those universal truths that transcend time and place – what C.S. Lewis called ‘The Tao’ or ‘The Way.’
Even though we are almost a century removed from the times about which Chesterton wrote, many of his insights look as if they were written specifically for us. When he wrote that our Church has a history of people who “preached social reconciliation to fierce and raging factions who could hardly bear the sight of each other’s faces,” it’s as if he had paid fairly close attention to the wacky, and depressing, political situations in both his British homeland as well as the United States.
As Catholics we are called to rise above the events of the here and now, not because we care only for the next world, but because we are so intimately tied to this one. We are called in this life to hold on to the stability that only Christ can provide, knowing that the winds of cultural and political change can sweep us far away from the Cross – the only historical event that literally divides time, and the only event that can give definitive meaning to our lives.