Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19:8-10, 15
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st
Letter to the Corinthians 12:12-30
Gospel: According to St. Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
One of the greatest writings in the area of ecclesiology (the study of the Church) comes to us from St. Paul in his first letter to the people of Corinth. The Corinthians were dear to the heart of St. Paul. He brought them the Good News for the first time on his second missionary journey in about A.D. 51, and he stayed in touch with them for the rest of his life. Corinth was a very ‘modern’ and ‘sophisticated’ city – meaning that you could indulge in any and all of the seven deadly sins with impunity. This fledgling Christian community was a great challenge for St. Paul, and for that reason he wrote two canonical letters to them and possibly two more letters that have been lost in the mists of history.
For us, the Christian community in Corinth can be a mirror. Pretty much any issue that St. Paul addresses to them he could just as easily be addressing to us. Divisions in the Church, moral disorders, sexual deviancy, false gods, liturgical abuses, and theological dissent – they are all there in Corinth. And yet, like today’s Church, there was an inherent goodness that St. Paul was able to tap into as he tried to keep this sometimes rambunctious group of believers on the path to Christ.
In light of the great emphasis placed upon God’s mercy by Pope Francis, today’s reading from St. Paul stands out and helps us to focus on why mercy is so essential to the Christian life. The interrelated nature of each of us is something that is often glossed over in a dog-eat-dog, look-out-for-number-one world.
If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.
To take seriously the words of St. Paul is to go beyond sympathy to empathy. To be sympathetic to those in pain is to feel sorrow at their pain. To be empathetic is to share in their pain. We save empathy for those we love, and love dearly. For just about everyone else, we offer our sympathy. St. Paul is calling us to bridge that gap, to feel empathy toward all, and especially towards those whom we might have felt no sympathy at all – those for whom we would have felt a self-righteous, “serves them right” antipathy.
If one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.
Sharing empathy with others in their triumphs can be even more difficult. I have seen, and fairly often, two good friends apply to the same college hopeful of fulfilling their childhood wish of attending their dream school together. It is awesome when they are both admitted. Yet the worst option is not two letters of denial – at least they can grow as friends in their shared hatred of the once beloved school. But when one is admitted and the other is denied, then it is a great act of heroism for one friend to feel empathy for the other, to feel truly joyful for the one who got what both of them had wanted.
Life, like admissions departments, can be cruel. Yet, through life’s toughest moments God offers us the opportunity to bind ourselves to others, to love as Jesus loves, and to act truly as interrelated members of the Body of Christ.