We come now to the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, which in an older way of thinking was called Quinta post Sancti Laurentii… the 5th after St. Lawrence, who was so beloved of the Romans. In fact, most of the Sundays of the year had station churches, not just the Sundays of Advent or days of Lent. The great 20th c. liturgist Bl. Ildefonso Schuster says of this Sunday:
This is the last of the stations named after the Cross-bearer of the basilica on the Via Tiburtina [St. Lawrence outside-the-walls]. The cycle of the Sundays following the feast of St Lawrence was succeeded at Rome by those grouped around the feast of St Cyprian, and later around that of St Michael. These feasts really served in regard to the Sunday cycle as so many milestones, to mark the succession of the different weeks, and had no special connection with the saint whose name they bore.
Another way to see this march of time through the “ordered Sundays.” I sometimes think of this long summer and autumn green season, after Pentecost, as Mother Church’s classroom to help her children live Christian lives. We receive loads of practical tips and wisdom in this time.
To review, St. Paul is having a hard time with interlopers amongst the Galatians, who are confusing them and teaching false Judaizing practices, such as the necessity of circumcision for Christians. Paul renews his appeal to freedom in Christ rather than slavery to the Law, freedom in the Spirit rather than slavery to the flesh.
This Sunday’s reading selection, Galatians 5:25-26; 6:1-10, is not used in the Novus Ordo. Remember that the breakdown of chapters and verses was a later invention. Paul didn’t write like that. So, it doesn’t surprise us that Holy Church would, for a reading, include the last verse of the previous chapter as a thematic segue. Let’s see the reading:
[Brethren,] If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if any one thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each man will have to bear his own load. Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches. Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
It is slightly interesting that in the Novus Ordo Year C of readings, the section just before this, Galatians 5:1, 13-18 is on the 13th Ordinary Sunday, and the section following, 6:14-16, is on the 14th Ordinary Sunday. As a matter of fact, in the Novus Ordo Galatians in read in Year C on all the Sundays 9th-14th.
This week the Gospel concerns how the Lord raises the son of the widow of Naim (Luke 7:11-16).
There is a lot of practical wisdom packed into this, too much to handle in this limited space. But if we can’t cover all of it, we can cover some of it. In a nutshell, the Apostle to the Gentiles concerns himself with our treatment of each other.
We should engage in mutual, fraternal correction:
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. (6:1)
Perform works of mercy according to “love your neighbor”:
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (v. 2)
Pride goeth before the fall:
For if any one thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (v. 3)
Attend to the duties of your state in life as it really is for you, not for someone else.
But let each one test (dokimázo “scrutinize to see if it is genuine, worthy”) his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each man will have to bear his own load. (v. 4-5)
The next verse again touches works of mercy, teaching and evangelizing, but from the point of view of the receiver. An echo of, “a worker is worthy of his wage” (Luke 10:7, 1 Tim 5:18, Lev 19:13, Deut: 24:15). Let those who are taught, take care of the teacher materially (cf. 1 Cor 9:11, 14: “the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel”.
Let him who is taught the word share (koinonéo – share with others, make a partner) all good things with him who teaches. (v. 6).
At the end (vv. 7-9) Paul brings in agricultural imagery of sowing and reaping, which underscores not only consequences but also time. We don’t have forever. The “harvest” of judgment will come at last. That’s a quick summary.
We can look at that last part more closely. Last week we saw how Paul contrasted the spirit and the Law, the flesh. This week, Paul presents, as it were, two farm fields, one of the flesh and the other of the spirit. From the one, damnation. From the other, salvation. In each case, the “due season” for reaping will arrive. Note also the emphasis not just on believing but doing: “let us not grow weary in well-doing” (v. 9). Performing works of mercy in true charity is like sowing the seed of salvation in the field of the spirit. We should take care to sow good works not just in the field of the flesh, the passing and earthly. Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical Deus caritas est, concerning those who have fallen afoul especially of Marxism, and the notion that the poor need justice rather than charity: “Works of charity—almsgiving—are in effect a way for the rich to shirk their obligation to work for justice and a means of soothing their consciences, while preserving their own status and robbing the poor of their rights” (26). Two people might perform the same work, one sowing in the flesh, the other the spirit. There are certainly good aspects of something even when not performed from charity, properly understood, but works performed from true sacrificial love are on another plane entirely. In the same encyclical Benedict cited the chapter before our reading, saying of personnel engaged in charitable works:
they must not be inspired by ideologies aimed at improving the world, but should rather be guided by the faith which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6). Consequently, more than anything, they must be persons moved by Christ’s love, persons whose hearts Christ has conquered with his love, awakening within them a love of neighbour.
Paul wrote to a community that was being divided by false teachers introducing error and “backwardist” practices. Do we not now see a Church being torn at by those who would return us to the flesh-embracing years of the 60’s and 70’s? Some throw the epithet “backwardist” around concerning those who desire continuity across generations and geography. True “backwardists” are those who seem to be focused only so far back and so far away as their own backsides. In proposing that everything that was done before the Second Vatican Council needs to be reinterpreted and even replaced with some manifestly inorganic “development,” the true “backwardists” are wont to invoke the Holy Spirit. I tremble for some of them, who really ought to know better. Because:
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap (v. 7).
God can’t be deceived. Period. Hence, this single part of this single verse should be an admonition to us all when we are contemplating some justification for sinning by omission or commission. However, we should also read it in context. Paul has just explained – to people who were being riled up by false teachers – that “a worker is worthy of his wage.” That is, that the Galatians (us) are expected in the mutual give and take we have as Christians, to support those who give us “the real deal,” the “ho lógos… the word.” This can embrace Scripture, but also what came to be called mystagogical catechesis, sacred liturgical worship (which is doctrine), and even The Word, in the Eucharist. To accept “the word” and then not be generous with it and with material means in return is to sow in the field of the flesh which, because it concerns the reception of something spiritual, is worse than the ungrateful reception of something merely material. Improper use of temporal goods falls under this heading, to be sure. Mostly, however, it is a strong reminder that we have the obligation to support those who bring us “ho lógos … the word.” Finally, it also applies to those who have received Orders and the charge it brings. Priests and bishops are obliged by what they have received to give “the real deal” and not world-infected, flesh-redolent, ideology-laced, platitude-riddled, sentimentality-tainted gobbledygook.
I put this out there to them in the spirit of the last verse of our reading:
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith (v. 10).
“Opportunity” in Greek is kairós, which is a “seasonable time,” which fits with the imagery of sowing and reaping. However, it is also, a “limited period of time.” So, let us do good, while we are still drawing breath. St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote, “I will spend my Heaven by doing good on earth.” In the short time we yet have here, we must spend our time on earth doing good for Heaven. If we owe this to all men, even more so do we owe this to “the household of faith” fellow Catholics, faithfully practicing, negligently falling away, and manifestly erring.
Every one of us must answer for our own sins, but also those of others whom we have led or provoked to sin. To those who today teach manifest error and propose the transformation of solid doctrine on faith and morals into the fruits of the field of the flesh, I propose you adopt a self-imposed silence, a strict examination of conscience, and a correction of errors lest you reap for eternity what no one should ever wish for another.
Image: Stained glass in the clerestory of St. Aloysius Church in Bowling Green, Ohio. The Sower of Galatians 6:8.