HOMILY EASTER SEASON WEEK 07 06 – Year I
The Teachings of St. Paul and Marriage Encounter:
Optional Memorial of St. Augustine of Canterbury
(Acts 28:16-20; Ps 11; Jn 21:20-25)
At one point during a marriage encounter weekend, couples are asked to focus on their spouse’s most endearing quality. Having heard the first reading, what for you would be a most endearing quality of St. Paul?
The most obvious answer might be his love for the Lord Jesus and his fiery energy in sharing that faith and love with the whole world, even when under house arrest! He is a model for us on how to proclaim the Kingdom of God and never stop teaching about Jesus Christ.
What would Paul say about the Kingdom of God? I think it would be similar to my motto as an archbishop, “Regnum Dei Intra Vos” which means “The Kingdom of God is among you.” That is taken from Luke 17:21, the only place in the New Testament where Jesus doesn’t just allude to the closeness of the Kingdom, but proclaims it is among us, here and now. Surely that would be a first assertion by St. Paul about the kingdom.
I suspect he would also be proclaiming what he wrote in his letter to the Romans (14:17), that the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but the peace, joy and justice of the Holy Spirit.
Peace is not a passing feeling, it is a gift of the Spirit we can claim as followers of Jesus. When he saw the shroud of Turin, a coroner who had done autopsies on hundreds of violent deaths remarked that the violence of those deaths was written on all their faces. Regarding the person imaged on the shroud, however, he noted it was obvious he died a violent death, but his face was totally at peace. Jesus, on the cross, was at peace because he knew he was doing the will of the Father – to reveal to us the depths of the Father’s love for the world.
Joy is also not just a passing feeling, but a profound way of being that is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We can claim that joy as followers of Jesus. So many people in our world today are chasing after fleeting moments of happiness, fun or pleasure, but so few truly experience joy. What a beautiful gift of the Holy Spirit that is.
Biblical justice is all about a right relationship with God, with all others in our lives, with our selves, and with all of God’s creation. The kingdom, and salvation, are all about relationships. Those right relationships are best achieved by simply keeping the commandments Jesus gave us: love God with our whole being; love our neighbor as we love ourselves; love one another as Jesus has loved us, and above all, love our enemies by forgiving them from the heart. There is the source of both peace and joy.
What would Paul teach about Jesus? A first reality would have to be Jesus is the Risen Lord he encountered on the road to Damascus. Not only was Jesus risen, he also identified himself with his followers, the Church, so Paul would also have encouraged the early Christians to gather as the Body of Christ for worship and fellowship.
As a zealous Jew, Paul would most certainly have taught that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah who accomplished four roles: to gather all the nations to himself (people were coming to him from all directions); to restore the Temple (the glory or “shekinah” of God that left the temple before the first exile was restored in Jesus’ own body as the new temple, and by the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in forms of wind and flame, not on the temple, but on the disciples and Mary in the upper room). That marked the birth of the Church – making all of us temples of the Holy Spirit in which the glory of God dwells.
The Messiah was also to overcome the enemies of Israel (Jesus destroyed not the Romans, but the real enemies of Israel, sin, suffering and death, through his resurrection), and to reign over all of creation (which Jesus is now doing at the right hand of the Father). That would be the essence of Paul’s preaching on the kingdom.
Certainly, Paul would be delighted to see a dozen couples spending a whole weekend deepening their relationship with each other, and with God, during a Marriage Encounter. The saying, “To be closer to God, be closer to people” rings true here. When these couples achieve intimacy with each other, and trust and forgive each other completely, they experience God as Trinity, as a divine relationship of love, unity, intimacy and oneness, in their own human relationship.
When trying to answer the question during an ME weekend, “How do I feel when I achieve intimacy with my spouse, one lady stated, “It is like there are no walls, no barriers, no separation between us.” She was talking about the kingdom of God, perhaps without even realizing it (Regnum Dei Intra Vos). These couples are building up the Reign of God, right here and now, in their relationship. Surely St. Paul would be delighted to see this taking place.
Today, the church invites us to honour St. Augustine of Canterbury, who managed to balance action and contemplation in his life and ministry. In 596, Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine, prior of St. Andrew’s monastery in Rome, and about 40 monks to evangelize England. The group was well received by King Ethelbert of Kent, who later became a saint himself. Augustine was soon made bishop and instructed to develop a hierarchy for England and to substitute Christian feasts for pagan celebrations. Apart from the Welsh refusal to accept either Augustine or the Roman traditions he proposed, the mission was successful. Augustine established a Benedictine monastery at Canterbury. The first archbishop of Canterbury, this “Apostle of the English” continued to work for the faith in Britain until his death in 604.
The Eucharist is an intimate meal with the Holy Trinity – we gather in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We listen to God’s holy word, and through the power of the Spirit, humble gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus, to be shared among us.
May our celebration fill us with the fiery enthusiasm of St. Paul, to proclaim the Kingdom of God as best we can, and to never stop teaching about the love of Jesus for us and all of God’s creation.