We have now moved out of the high days and holy days of the Christmas season into what the Church calls “Ordinary Time.” It is in the ordinary times, the ordinary days, doing the ordinary things of life, that we must “work out our salvation,” as St Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 2, verse 13. In the first few weeks of the new year the Church gives us readings from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. As one of the chief commercial centers of the ancient world, Corinth was a very cosmopolitan city with a great diversity of ethnic and social groups. It was infamous for loose living …the Las Vegas of its day. All this was reflected in the Corinthian community where Paul labored for over a year and a half and to which he later wrote his most challenging letters.
Put simply, the Christians in Corinth were ordinary people who were living the extraordinary life of the Spirit and doing it badly. As we will see in future weeks, the community was rife with division, envy, one-up-manship, spiritual immaturity, moral turpitude. St Paul’s most well-known and well-loved passage on the centrality of love, a favourite reading for weddings, which we find in chapter 13 of his letter, was written, precisely because the Corinthians were NOT living a life of love amongst each other, nor anything like it!! So Paul reminds them, in the passage we are given for this Sunday’s liturgy, that they are, in fact, “called to be saints.” This is meant, not in the sense that we understand the word, the canonized Saints of the church’s calendar, but in the sense that they are meant to live in a Christ-like manner, in the midst of their ordinary lives.
That same charge is laid upon us as ordinary Catholic Christians. We are called to this, says St Paul, because we CAN live like this, since we are, in his words, already “sanctified (made holy) in Christ Jesus.” Through our baptism, in which we receive the Holy Spirit, or to put it another way, the Spirit of holiness, we have received everything we need to enable us to live holy lives. This is not a call just for clergy and religious and specially gifted lay people, but, as the Church reminds us in the document on the Church, chapter 5, from the Second Vatican Council, a call which is given to every single Christian, no matter what their state in life. The thing is, we do not achieve holiness by gritting our teeth and trying really, really hard, but by surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus in the power of his Spirit. To use a common metaphor, we allow Jesus to take the wheel in the vehicle of our everyday life, and are content to let him drive us where he wills, not where we want to go. (Oh, and by the way, it also means we hand over to him the map as well!!)
In the year ahead, brothers and sisters, I wish you, in the words of St Paul, “grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!!”