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2nd Sunday after Epiphany: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

We move liturgically now into the epilogue of the Christmas Cycle, which began with Advent.  These Sundays after Epiphany are counted as part of the tempus per annum… time through the year.  As such they don’t have a specific character, but function as a transitional stage between the cycles of Christmas and Lent/Easter.   There is still, however, as strong gravitational pull exerted on these Sundays from Epiphany.  For example, this Sunday the 2nd after Epiphany recounts in the Gospel the Wedding at Cana and the Lord’s first public miracle whereby He changed water into wine, thus manifesting, “epiphany-ing”, His Divinity.  Epiphany is associated with three revelations of Christ’s divinity, the coming of the Magi, the Baptism of the Lord, when the Father’s voice is heard, and the miracle of the wine at Cana.  Indeed, I write this on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

Preaching this Sunday will more than likely be dominated by the theme of marriage, since the Gospel is about wedding feast at Cana.  Holy Church’s Fathers taught that the presence of the Lord at this wedding raised what is a divinely intended natural bond between man and a woman to a sacrament, a reflection of Christ and His bond with the Church.  It is more than proper to preach about marriage this Sunday because marriage is so very much under attack. Diabolical agents are rampaging to confuse as many people as possible about marriage, family, and the reality of two sexes.  That said, this year in these columns we are focusing less on the Gospel reading and more on the Epistle, which this week is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 12:6-16.

The Epistle reading is from Romans 12, written by Paul when he was in Corinth in the 50’s AD.   Chapter 12 follows Paul’s look at the salvation of Israel and Gentiles.  He now moves into ethical exhortations.  Romans 12 is divided mainly into three parts. Vv. 1-2 exhort us (the Romans) to be living sacrifices and not to be conformed to this world.  Vv. 3-8 provides a string of exhortations about unity in diversity of gifts.  Vv. 9-21 lists rapid rules for Christian life.  Our reading straddles the second and third sections, hence is starts with a list of different charisms that are found among Christians (vv. 6-9) and goes on with the parenesis, the proverb-like list of rules for life (vv. 10-16).

Brethren:Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; he who teaches, in his teaching; he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;[a] never be conceited. (RSV)

The word Paul uses for gifts is charísmata, from charisma.  They come from the Holy Spirit and enable members to serve the Church.  Paul has four lists of gifts: 1 Cor 12:8-10, 1 Cor 12: 28-30; Eph 4:11 and Romans 12:6-18.  Tallied up there are a total of 29 charísmata but some of them overlap, rendering down the number to 20.  In 1 Cor 12 Paul says there are diversities of charismata but the same Spirit, diversities of diakonía – ministries but the same Lord, and diversities of enérgemaoperations but the same God “who inspires them all in everyone”.  Perhaps we could perhaps attribute operations (miracles and healings), to the Father, the ministries (pastoral and doctrinal) to the Son, and other gifts (discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues, etc.) to the Holy Spirit.  But for Paul it is the Holy Spirit that gives all the gifts and “inspires them all”.  “All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” (1 Cor 12:11)

The Epistle reading for Mass continues with the list of rules for Christian life and it is rather straight forward as it stands.  But if we read it in the larger context of the whole of chapter 12, they take on more oxygen.  Chapter 12 begins with sacral language, that of worship and sacrifice.  We are to present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (v. 1) Who presents?  Priests.  What does the priest present? The victim offering.  Our participation in the Mystical Person of Christ, as St. John Paul referred to membership in the Church, means that, by baptism, we all have a share in the priesthood and victimhood of Christ.  At the altar, by his sacrament conformation to Christ, the High Priest, Father is both priest and victim.  This becomes apparent through his words and gestures.  However, all the baptized, lay faithful have this two-fold priestly and victim role in worship.  You are to offer first and foremost yourselves.  As the host on the altar should be spotless, the wine clear and clean, so too should you be.  As the priest should be upright and in the state of grace, even while multiple times acknowledging his sinful neediness, so to you in the pews.

In the section following the Epistle pericope, we find a continuation of the list of proverbial rules for Christian living especially in the light of contrasts, not taking revenge for wrongs, blessing those who harm you, giving help even to enemies.  It ends with “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (v 21).

We can tease forth something from the reading and its context. Although we have different vocations with different gifts, there is nevertheless a Christian behavior which is common to us all.  In Romans 12:2-3 Paul writes:

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him.

We should have the utmost respect for the vocations of others, what ever they may be.  While there are certain states that are higher than others, we nevertheless are alike in dignity and responsibility before God to live our vocations in a godly, not earthly, way and to be holy.  Each vocation serves the Church in its own manner.  In being a good married servant, you help the celibate clergy.  In being holy and by offering sacrifice, by teaching, governing, and sanctifying, the priest helps married couples and families.  Those who are unmarried and who are religious have their own ways of service and benefit.  God knew us before the creation of the cosmos and every one of us has been given a needed role according to His unfathomable plan.

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