Sunday, July 29, 2007

Today's Epistle

Brothers and sisters: You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God,who raised him from the dead. And even when you were dead in transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions; obliterating the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us, he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.

So ends the reading of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Colossians for this Sunday. I decided awhile back that for this 3-year cycle of the readings I would concentrate on the non-gospel NT readings. The late Aidan Kavanaugh, OSB, in his writings said that the homily is ALWAYS on the gospel. And generally I'd agree with him, but NEVER to preach on the epistles makes them irrelevant, and if we're going to take Aidan's approach, then there is no point in reading them at all. Why present readings, often obscure to the thought of contemporary Catholics, and then never unpack them for the people's understanding?

Therefore, pace Fr. Aidan, I've started this cycle of preachings on the epistles. The lectionary leaves out several verses preceding where the Apostle warns the Colossians to avoid "philosophy" and "traditions" because they will ensnare them. This is the only time in the NT where the word "philosophy" appears. Paul is not talking about Plato and Aristotle here. Rather this is reasoning "according to the flesh," i.e., outside of the salvific grace of Christ, and therefore in opposition to him. There is a "right mind" that people need to have if they are going to be with Christ. Human reason is a gift from God. It is not to be denigrated, but rejoiced in. Without it we would never be able to experience the truth about anything, whether of this world or of the next. At the same time, human reason is infallible only when it is right. When it's wrong, its conclusions can lead to disaster.

By baptism into Christ, we have the possibility to tap into the "mind of Christ." Therefore, if we are always guided by the mind of Christ, we will then have that right mind that is so necessary for the Catholic life. All of this is a gift, however, and we cannot achieve this state through human reason unassisted by grace. This gift to us is the result of the death of Christ on the holy rood.

As the Apostle says, all of this has been done for us while we were sinners. It is not a reward for our being good, or doing something nice. Grace is God's holy gift and totally beyond human power to gain. Christ nailed our sins to the cross, as it were to say that the indictment against us has been wiped away. The lectionary reading, for some unknown reason, leaves off a sentence that describes this as Christ's capturing all the evil powers of the universe and making them part of his triumphal procession, with them in tow as his prisoners. What a tremendous statement about the power of Christ that is available by the rood and resurrection to folks!

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