July 29, 2004
One sows; another reaps. This is an inevitable law of life. And the great apostle Paul uses it in speaking to the church of Corinth. Corinth had to be one of the most enthusiastic of Christian communities in the first century. Here Paul made the second longest stay in his missionary journeys. And it was to these Christians that Paul writes perhaps as many as four different letters. In the New Testament we have two of those letters. But these may contain some of his other correspondence.
Paul was not the only well-known and respected apostle at Corinth. There is a very strong suspicion that Peter, the head of the Church, also had visited Corinth. And we do know that Apollos, a Christian of Jewish background from Alexandria, followed Paul at Corinth and was a most eloquent preacher. It is highly improbable that Apollos ever put someone to sleep by his preaching as Paul did in Troas (Acts 20: 8-9). Some of us may indeed nod off during a twenty minute homily. But at least we don’t fall out of an upstairs window and kill ourselves as Eutychus did at Troas. Fortunately Paul went down and raised him from the dead. But then Paul made him come back and listen to the rest of the sermon!
Some preachers are better than others; but every preacher can still be an instrument of God’s Word. Now Paul was much better at writing than preaching and his writings still inspire us. Different gifts; one church. Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth because the news of dissensions within the community had reached him. And he knew how important unity is for the church—unity in what we believed and in how we practice our faith.
The proud attachment to different leaders who had worked so successfully at Corinth was splintering the church into groups. No age is exempt from pride. And it could happen that some Christians who are on fire with the gospel, passionately in love with the Lord and eager to build up the church begin to see themselves as more greatly gifted than others and begin to separate themselves from others. It happened at Corinth and Paul wasted no time in responding. His response reminds us that all of us-laity and clergy are simply servants of the Lord. Some plant; others reap. But God gives the increase (1 Cor 3).
I have been making my first missionary journey through our diocese. I have been celebrating Mass in a different parish every day. We had a little trouble finding one of the churches. Someone had thoughtfully removed all the street signs. We asked and people knew where the church was. And this is very hopeful. This past week in St. Anthony’s parish on Beech St. in Paterson, Paul’s teaching to the church of Corinth came alive for me. I was privileged to receive into the church and confirm a very good friend.
A few years ago a young priest I know from his seminary days, Fr. Brian Plate, was Air Force chaplain in Misawa, Japan. On base, he became friends with a Methodist minister named Amy, her husband and their children. When I went to Misawa to preach a mission to our service men and women and their families, I met Amy and her family. I saw what a great support they were to Fr. Brian and what good work was being done to make Jesus known and loved. About 2 years later, I went back to Misawa to celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation on the base. And then I had the added joy of receiving into the church Amy’s husband Paul. Fr. Brian and others before him had sown the seed. I was reaping the harvest.
This past week, Amy was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. This meant she would leave behind her work as an ordained minister. What a great leap of faith and trust! And she made it with such joy, with such a sense of fulfillment. For her to accept the truth of the faith as handed down in the Tradition of the Catholic Church meant reaping in her personal life the seeds of faith that others had planted in her upbringing, in her Christian discipleship, in her formation and ministry. What a joy to reap once again the rich harvest of faith and commitment that others had sown! What a grace for me to receive her profession of the faith and to welcome her to the Eucharist. As I did, I was keenly aware that all who had led her to this moment were, as Paul says, servants of the Lord. One sowed; another reaped. But God gives the increase.
That very day someone questioned me why Amy would join the Catholic Church. “Why not,” I answered. She had come to embrace what we hold and believe as Catholics. This Church of ours is the church Jesus founded on the rock of Peter. The Second Vatican Council reminded us of the great mystery of the Church. In
Lumen Gentium 8 #2, the council fathers put in clear terms what we believe. The Church which our Savior founded and entrusted to the pastoral care of Peter after the resurrection, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend,-- this Church subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him.
And this Church is very much alive and well in our diocese. As I have been going from parish to parish, the great numbers of faithful who have come to celebrate the Eucharist, even very early in the morning, have been an overwhelming encouragement and source of strength for me. I am getting to experience firsthand not only the faith and gifts, but the treasure that the people of this diocese truly are. I am witnessing the dedicated ministry of our priests and religious. Seeing the altar surrounded by so many each day and with such obvious joy in the faith has made me aware how much others have sown. What a gift our faith is, what a grace to hold to the deposit of faith handed on from the apostles and to live that faith with the fullness of the Church’s sacramental life.
Through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, may the good example of each of us living the faith be the seeds for an abundant harvest of conversions and returns to the Church.