Please bear with me.
There are few things more painful to your preacher than watching Duke beat Georgetown. I would rather be beaten up by deranged Mormon missionaries.
For about ten minutes during the first half, it looked like Georgetown could actually win the game. Then things fell apart.
Monroe got in foul trouble, including a mysterious technical foul. Gerald Henderson scored three points every time he touched the ball. Summers played a great game but could not make his free throws. And poor Jessie Sapp was joined by Chris Wright on some planet in another solar system where no one ever scores any points.
Anyway, enough bellyaching. God is good, no matter what happens. Here is today’s homily…
Brothers and sisters, we have an eventful week ahead of us. On Tuesday, our 44th President will be inaugurated. Before, that—tomorrow—we will observe the 80th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King lived and died to vindicate the human rights of the weak and oppressed. That is why we keep a national holiday in honor of his birth.
Our eventful week will continue on Thursday with the March for Life. We will march for the same cause that Dr. King fought for—the rights of the weakest and most defenseless people.
But there is more. Next Sunday, we will keep one of the main feasts of the Year of St. Paul. January 25 is the feast of the Apostle’s conversion to Christ.
This year we are celebrating St. Paul’s 2,000th birthday. For the next six weeks, between now and Ash Wednesday, our second readings at Sunday Mass will be taken from St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.
Since we have such a big week ahead of us, the most important thing for us to do now is to focus our minds on the Word of God. Let us try to learn from St. Paul what our role as Christians is in the events of our time. To do this, let us to try to understand the events that moved St. Paul to write his letters to the Corinthians in the first place.
Corinth was an ancient Greek city, originally founded nine centuries before Christ. In 146 B.C., the Romans burned Corinth to the ground. Then they re-built it to serve as their provincial capital in southern Greece. At the time of St. Paul, the population of Corinth was made up of every different kind of person in the empire—Romans, Greeks, Jews, Asians, Africans. It was a port city, a city with no long-standing traditions and no aristocracy. To put it bluntly, Corinth was notorious throughout the world for being an immoral cesspool.
Perhaps you remember how St. Paul came to Corinth. In the fall we read St. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. After the Apostle founded the church in Thessalonica, he headed south. He preached in Athens, then he went to Corinth. He stayed for two years, during which time he wrote his letters to the Thessalonians.
After two years in Corinth, St. Paul moved on again. His travels eventually led him in Ephesus, right across the Aegean Sea from Corinth. While the Apostle was in Ephesus, he heard a great deal about what was going on in Corinth. Most of it was not good.
The Apostle wrote to the Corinthian Christians multiple times—at least three letters, maybe more. In God’s Providence, two of these letters have come down to us as part of the New Testament. We will be reading only short selections from these letters at Mass. Why not read the whole letters at home as spiritual reading?
We can judge from St. Paul’s letters to them that the first Christians in Corinth were a lovable mess. St. Paul had to write from Ephesus to Galatia to explain to the Christians there that they did not have to practice Judaism. He had to write to Corinth to combat the opposite problem: He had to explain to the Corinthians that, now that they were Christians, they were not allowed to be pagans anymore.
In today’s reading from First Corinthians, we heard St. Paul insist on bodily chastity. Being baptized into Christ has sanctified our bodies and made them holy temples. The Lord Jesus offered his sacred flesh to be scourged and crucified so that we could be members of His Body in glory. We have no right to indulge ourselves with sensual pleasure, because our bodies belong to the One Who has redeemed us from sin and death.
The problem was that the Corinthian Christians were surrounded by a shallow, frivolous, culture. They lived among people who had no respect for human dignity, the sacredness of life, and the worship of Almighty God.
The Corinthians Christians loved God; they loved Christ; they believed in the Holy Spirit. But they had not thought through fully the consequences of their faith. They had not applied their faith to their lives. They did not realize that their duty as Christians was to bear witness to truth and justice in their godless city. St. Paul insisted that Christians cannot just go along with the way everyone else does things, especially when the way everyone else does things is morally wrong.
This means that we, dear brothers and sisters, cannot retreat from the challenges of our time and isolate ourselves. Neither can we skate along as if everything is just fine. Everything is not fine in our country when more than 4,000 innocent babies are killed in their mothers’ wombs in abortions every day.
St. Paul lived and died for the truth, even when it meant standing up against injustice. In his famous letter from the Birmingham jail, Dr. King invoked St. Paul three times to explain his own mission to stand up for oppressed people. In other words, Dr. King looked to St. Paul as his inspiration.
Let’s imagine that St. Paul and Dr. King were still on earth, and you were looking to see them on Pennsylvania Avenue downtown this week. I think it is safe to say that you would likely see them there on Thursday.
Brothers and sisters, if we want to walk in the footsteps of the saints and the heroes of our country, then we have to be ready to stand up for the weak and defenseless ones who need us on their side.