As we approach the end of the liturgical year, an odd thing happens in the Church’s traditional calendar for the Vetus Ordo. The Sundays left over after Epiphany are finally dusted off, “resumed,” and prayed until the liturgical year is concluded. This is because of the vagaries of the Moon and shifting date of Easter and, therefore, Septuagesima, Ash Wednesday and, naturally, Pentecost itself. In some years the Sundays after Pentecost don’t take us all the way to Advent. Thus, we fill the gap with the post-Epiphany Sundays that we didn’t get to before Septuagesima Sunday. Get it? Even so, last week was the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. This week we have the formulary for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany. Next week will be the 6th Sunday after Epiphany. To bring the year to a close we have the 24th and Last Sunday after Pentecost. After that is the 1st Sunday of Advent.
We have already seen our Epistle for this Sunday, the 5th Sunday Remaining after Epiphany – Colossians 3: 12-17 – way back for the Feast of the Holy Family.
Context matters. Paul’s original audience were the Christians of Colossae.
Colossae, one of the seven cities mentioned the Book of Revelation, was a city in Phrygia of Asia Minor, modern day Turkey. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians is one of the four Captivity Epistles written during his first imprisonment in Rome, along with Ephesians, Philemon and Philippians. Paul mentions his bonds (Col 4:3; 4:18) and he names his fellow prisoners (Col 4:10). Paul never got to Colossae. A fellow named Epaphras, mentioned in the Letter seems to have founded the local Church. Paul also mentions Luke the Evangelist, “the beloved physician” (4: 14), and Mark, perhaps the Evangelist, “the cousin of Barnabas” (4: 10), and companion of Barnabas and Paul (cf. Acts 12: 25; 13: 5, 13).
We glean from the Letter itself that the Church of Colossae was mainly Gentile (Col 1:21, 27, 2:13) and there were rising some views which were not in harmony with Christian belief and practice. Pagan mystery religions surely played a part as well as Judaizers and Gnostics.
The first part of the Letter is mainly doctrinal and the second underscores how Christians should behave. Paul uses his “put on the new man” imagery, virtues and identity being like garments, which we have explored before. The section of the letter whence this Sunday’s pericope (a selection from Scripture for a reading) is drawn concerns rules for Christian households.
Obviously Holy Church knows that we must hear this reading more than once a year, probably because its content, though simple, is nonetheless difficult for many to put into practice.
[Brethren:] Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [… giving thanks to God the Father through Christ Jesus our Lord.]
Here we have straight forward, practical advice for how to have harmonious and holy relationships with people, especially with our loved ones.
The Gospel passage for this Sunday has the parable about the enemy who sows weeds, cockles, into a householder’s wheat field. This was a serious problem in the ancient world, an aggressive and financially devastating act of eco-terrorism, which could be horribly punished under Roman law. The weed in question is hard to distinguish from wheat at first, and it is pesky because its roots entangle everything and cannot be separated.
When you look at the prayers for the Mass you also see a strong focus on being vigilant and asking for forgiveness for our sins.
The tare weeds might look like the wheat, but they aren’t. The enemy might look like an innocuous guy in the street, but he is dangerous. In our dealings with others Paul says to put on “charity.” We should be consistent in our outward behavior towards all whom we deal with. That is, our outward comportment should accurately reflect and reveal who we are through integration into Christ, whose identity we piously invoke.
Bl. Idelfonso Schuster muses:
How profound are the mysteries of Providence! If the Lord does not punish and destroy the wicked in this life, it is in order that the good may not be involved in the same doom, who by ties of blood, of fellow-citizenship and of country are associated together with the sinners. The world never reflects upon the great and important part fulfilled by the saints, whose merits ward off from the world its well-deserved chastisements.
Over all the virtues mentioned before, to be put on like garments, we are to put on like a cloak the virtue of love, Greek agápe, Latin caritas, charity. The RSV version above says “above all.” The Greek epi pasi toutois indeed means “over all these,” as a cloak is over other clothing, but is also “more than all these… in preference to all these.” The point being that charity is the bond which binds them all together, or perhaps rather brings all the others out.
Paul imagery involves putting on virtues like garments. The word in Greek is endúsasthe a middle aorist imperative of enduo: “clothe yourselves.” The Latin Vulgate uses induite in v. 12, again an imperative, “y’all put on, clothe.” In v. 14 the verb for “put on” is missing, but it is understood, carried over from v. 12. In the Latin version read in Church in the Mass, the somewhat drab imperative “habete” is inserted to stand for that understood induite.
What is Paul saying here, really? “Hey, if you don’t mind too much, you could do this, you know, just a little. Maybe?” No. He uses imperatives, command forms. Do this! The subtext is, “If you don’t, there will be consequences.”
Those consequences involve the Four Last Things.
Holy Church gives us this reading together with Gospel passage about the wheat and tares. Why? Some (who take Paul’s commands to heart and “put on Christ”) will, like wheat, be saved into the good place. Others, who don’t, will, like cockles, go to the other place. Pius Parsch in his The Church’s Year of Grace, puts it well. He contrasts the community which has done what Paul told them to do, with one in which there are still divisions and strife, factions and enemies. Hence,…
Our blessed Redeemer, however, shows us how to meet and solve the mystery of evil operative in the Church and in individual souls. My program during the coming week will be to strive zealously to realize St. Paul’s ideal, no matter what happens to me; I will not be scandalized at what others do, but will try to imitate the patience of God toward the wicked. Moreover, I will give serious thought to the reality of hell. …. Mother Church wishes to impress upon our hearts two lessons: (1) the end is near, the ideal should now be realized; live, therefore, in such a way as if the “day of Christ” would come tomorrow. Now in the shadow of the parousia, now at the approach of the great King, “put on the garments of mercy, kindness, humility, modesty, patience.” (2) Heaven and hell are realities, the weeds will be burnt and the wheat will be taken to the heavenly granaries. This truth our Lord projects in a fear-inspiring scene; beneath, burning bundles of unfortunate reprobates light up the gloomy, dismal depths with their muddy-red flames, filling the abyss with wild, dissolute howlings; but high above, the saints in glory are entering the opened door of the eternal kingdom, resplendent with the brilliance of setting suns. … How much cockle still remains in my soul!
Convert from Lutheranism, ordained to the priesthood in 1991 by St. John Paul II in Rome for the Suburbicarian Diocese of Velletri-Segni. Classics at University of Minnesota. Licence and Doctoral studies in Patristic Theology at the Augustinianum in Rome. Formerly a collaborator of the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei,” moderator of the Catholic Online Forum, columnist for The Wanderer and the UK’s Catholic Herald, Fox News contributor. Speaker. Blogist. fatherzonline.com @fatherz