Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

This being the Year of St. Paul, I thought we should take a closer look at today’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Romans: I beg you through the mercy of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind so that you might judge what is God's will, what is good, pleasing and perfect.[1]

This is a transition passage in Romans, bridging what we believe and how we live our faith[2].

Christianity is a religion that is very simple, yet is also very complex. It is simple because the answer to all questions is "Trust in God. Have faith in Him." It is complex because it utilizes the full extent of our intelligence to just begin to comprehend the mysteries that God has revealed to us. The lessons we give a 7 or 8 year old to prepare for First Communion, or even those which we give a 14 or 15 year old to prepare for confirmation are basically framed to a child's or adolescent's capabilities. The complexities of what we mean when we say that Jesus is God and Man, or that God is Three in One, or what we mean when we use the words salvation, redemption, predestination are what algebra and calculous are to the adult mind in comparison to the addition and subtraction we teach a child or the general math we teach an adolescent.

Perhaps there is no place where this is more obvious in the Holy Scripture than in the first eleven chapters of Paul's Letter to the Romans. Here Paul deals with the deep, mysterious truths of Christianity: he speaks about natural ethics, predestination, laws that bind and laws that free, resurrection, and so forth.

But the, after eleven chapters of this, Paul changes directions, or rather, gives direction to all he has written. What use is the revelation of God to us? Paul is asking, what use is God's revelation if we do not allow ourselves to act upon it?" Knowledge of the faith, no matter how complex, no matter how intricate that knowledge might be, is useless if we are not transformed by this knowledge into Christians.

Look at Peter in the Gospel reading for this Sunday. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah. This passage comes right after the passage we had last Sunday when Peter says, You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Peter knew that Jesus was the Messiah, but he didn't act on this knowledge. If he really believed that Jesus was the Messiah, he would have accepted what the Messiah was saying as part of God's plan. But Peter doesn't accept this. When our Lord predicts his passion, Peter opposes him, opposes the plan of God. Peter, the one who proclaimed You are the Christ, was siding with the devil. That is why Christ said to him, Get behind me Satan.

It is insufficient for us only to attain an adult understanding of the complexities of our faith. We must allow ourselves to be transformed by what we have learned, by what we have been given. We must put on a new mind set. The focus of our lives must not be ourselves. That is the way of the world. The way of Christ is the way of sacrificial love. This is the meaning of our faith. This is the transformation of the mind which St. Paul speaks about in today’s second reading ■
[1] 12:1-2
[2] Sunday 31st August, 2008, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God—Ps 62(63):2-6, 8-9. Romans 12:1-2. Matthew 16:21-27.

Ilustration: This tale from the life of St Peter is recorded in the collection of legends written down by Jacobus a Voragine in the 13th century. It tells how the apostle, having triumphed over Simon Magus, was persuaded by the Christians of Rome to leave town. Jacobus a Voragine relates how Peter encountered Christ on the Appian way and asked "Quo vadis domine" (Whither goest thou, master?), to which Christ replied "To Rome, to be crucified anew." This apocryphal legend is in fact the beginning of Peter's own martyrdom. This would certainly explain the vigorous movements in Carracci's painting, with the apostle recoiling in terror. It is not the unexpected encounter with the risen Christ that has taken the apostle aback, but his awareness of his own human frailty. Annibale's magnificent rhetoric reminds the spectator of Christ's call to turn back. The viewer is on the Appian Way with Peter, or rather, is Peter meeting Christ. The foot of the cross protrudes from the panel, Christ's hand points outwards, and the shadows he casts attest to his corporeality as he strides toward us. While Peter's left foot remained in place, the rest of the figure was altered during painting, drawn back to the right edge of the panel in an attitude half-way between terror and obeisance, more deeply felt than his earlier pose but also making room for our implied presence. Firm contours delimit Christ's athletic bo,dy, yet its internal modelling is subtly lifelike, rippling with the movement of muscles and the angle at which surfaces catch the light. It is obvious that this figure was based on a live model, for his hands and lower legs are more sunburnt than his torso and thighs, although the face he turns to Peter is an idealised mask of pathos under the crown of thorns. Despite the dual sources of light from the background and in the foreground, the same sun seems to warm sky, trees, fields and Roman temples, and the crimson, white, gold and blue draperies, the metal keys, the youthful and the aged flesh and the chestnut and grizzled hair of the two wayfarers at the crossroads between time and eternity.

Annibale Carraci, Domine quo vadis?(1601-02), Oil on panel, 77,4 x 56,3 cmNational Gallery, (London)

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris