5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Readings: Is 58:7-10; Ps 111; 1 Cor 2:1-5; Gospel: Mt 5:13-16
I came to you to proclaim Christ crucified.
WHEN I came to you, brothers, it was not with any show of oratory or philosophy, but simply to tell you what God had guaranteed. During my stay with you, the only knowledge I claimed to have was about Jesus, and only about him as the crucified Christ. Far from relying on any power of my own, I came among you in great ‘fear and trembling’ and in my speeches and the sermons that I gave, there were none of the arguments that belong to philosophy; only a demonstration of the power of the Spirit. And I did this so that your faith should not depend on human philosophy but on the power of God.
ST PAUL paints an interesting picture of himself in today’s Second Reading. He tells the Christians in Corinth that when he came to preach the gospel to them, he came in “weakness and fear and much trembling.”
This doesn’t correspond to the super-apostle and miracle-worker image that we tend to have of St Paul. Even the reason why he wrote this First Letter to the Corinthians doesn’t fit with that Herculean image. He wrote the Letter because he had to defend himself against critics who were turning the Christians in Corinth against him.
But his self-defense is kind of strange, isn’t it? He doesn’t point to any special achievements or outstanding personal qualities. Instead, he points to his weakness and his lack of special qualities. It’s as if he were saying: “I didn’t graduate from prestigious colleges or win any major awards; I wasn’t listed in Fortune 500 Magazine and never had my own TV show. So, from a strictly human perspective, I don’t have any qualifications or credentials.” It’s almost as if he is agreeing with his critics!
But then he makes his point, which is very simple, and very important. Precisely because he was such an unimpressive figure, they know that the gospel he preached is true: it is based on God’s power, he says, not human wisdom. The faith of the Christians in Corinth, and the faith of every Christian—including ourselves—needs to be built on the unshakeable foundation of God and His revelation, not on fancy arguments, not in emotional comforts, or human satisfactions.
Each of us needs to ask ourselves: What is the foundation of my Catholic faith? A deep, personal conviction that God is real, that Jesus really died on the cross for my redemption, that God really cares about me? Or something else? It’s not easy to build our lives on God’s power, because our faith doesn’t always make sense in terms of merely human wisdom. That is why we need to constantly look at Christ crucified.
Pope Benedict XVI once said: “Every man and every woman needs to find a deep meaning for their own existence… And for this, books are not enough, not even sacred Scripture. The Child of Bethlehem reveals and communicates to us the true ‘face’ of the good and faithful God, who loves us and who does not abandon us even in death.” (Angelus, 4 January 2009)
So, brothers and sisters again, let us each ask ourselves, what kind of foundation are we building on: God’s power, or fragile human wisdom?
Three litmus tests can help us answer this question accurately. First, prayer. Do we take time out of our busy schedule to spend with God in prayer every day? Do we even know how to pray? Do we pray better now than we did ten years ago? If other things, even good things, continuously crowd personal, heartfelt prayer out of our daily life, we can be sure that we aren’t building on God’s power.
Second, obedience. Christ’s path of redemption was traveled through obedience to his Father’s will, even to the point of dying on the cross. As his followers, we are also called to be obedient to God’s will, even when it’s hard. We can ask ourselves: Are we obeying all of the Ten Commandments, or do we habitually break one or two of them? Are we obeying Church teaching regarding the tough issues of our day? Do we even know or try to find out the reasons behind those teachings? Or do we just go with the flow or worse, misrepresent Church teachings, or stubbornly cling to the version of Church that we want? Obedience is truly a foundational Christian virtue.
Third, the sacraments. If we eagerly look forward and prepare ourselves to receive Christ in the Eucharist each Sunday, and if we make use of the amazing sacrament of confession on a regular basis, then that is a sure sign that we are building our lives on God’s power, not on fragile human wisdom.
Prayer, obedience, and the sacraments. As we continue with this Mass, let’s ask God to enlighten our hearts, to show us how we can live these virtues more intelligently and actively, so that we are sure to build our lives on a supernatural foundation that will last into eternity.