In my wonderings around to different parishes, there is a frequent conversation that happens in the sacristy prior to Mass: ‘What does St. Paul mean in this reading?’
As Catholics, we tend to study the Gospels the most. With the arrangement of the Lectionary Cycle, we can often see the typology of Christ hidden in the Old Testament, but St. Paul’s writings are often lost to most of us. Even as a priest, I often overlook the Second Reading at Mass when preparing my homily.
Today’s Second Reading gives us an insight into how to interpret the entirety of the Pauline corpus, and I want to look a little more in depth at this for our reflections today. In fact, I think there are two key hermeneutical lenses that can give us an insight into the writings of St. Paul.
First, Life in Christ: For St. Paul, the primary motivator for his journeys and his writings is to exhort the growing Christian community into a new life in Christ: Put on Christ over the old life of sin. In that time frame, there was such a dramatic conversion that was needed, he had to be forceful with his audiences (see, for example, the stupid Galatians!). He has experienced that conversion and desperately desires for his fellow believers to have that same joy that he has found in Christ.
The challenge becomes how do we continue to live that life in Christ? This is where today’s Second Reading gives us the particular insight: ‘I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Christ, and Him Crucified!’ For St. Paul, this is the key into that life in Christ. The central event not just in Salvation History, but in all of human history is the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God. By this one event, all of human history has been changed. Therefore, when we enter into that particular mystery, all of life is changed.
This becomes an interpretive key for the modern day, as well. As a priest, I am convinced that life in Christ, particularly in the Cross, it what unites us all. For there is one thing that we have in common across the human condition: we suffer. We have our own weaknesses, we have suffered because of the weaknesses and sins of others directed at ourselves, we all sin.
Yet, by entering into the Crucifixion, we are able to overcome or pass through those sufferings to experience the joy that comes in the Resurrection. In fact, as we go through that suffering, we come to have a deeper awareness and appreciation of that joy that comes in Christ!
In this: life in Christ, and Him Crucified, we find the deeper joy that transcends our human weaknesses, transcends even the limits of time and space: we find joy that is rooted in Christ.
As we embrace this joy, then we are able to truly be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, spicing this world with the truth of the Gospel and leading others to Christ by the light of faith that shines in our willingness to proclaim Christ, and Him Crucified.