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Patrick and Paul

Patrick and Paul

Monday, March 17, 2014 – Week of 2 Lent, Year Two / Feast of St. Patrick

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 56, 57, [58] (morning) // 64, 65 (evening)

Genesis 41:46-57

1 Corinthians 4:8-20(21)

Mark 3:7-19a

The year 313 is a famous turning point in Christian history—the year that the Roman emperor Constantine legalized Christianity. This turning point eventually gave way to a tipping point in the numbers and social acceptability of Christians. Over the next century, it was not only permissible to be a Christian, but also socially advantageous.

In your own context, has Christianity brought you advantages and privileges, or has it cost you security and prestige? Although I’ve occasionally been misjudged or disparaged for my faith, I have to admit that, on balance, my Christian identity has worked largely to my benefit. I can easily find community in a variety of churches, make connections with many faith-based organizations and schools, and feel included in major cultural celebrations. My Christian faith has helped me to advance my professional and personal lives.

Those of us from contexts like this should be haunted by Paul’s words in today’s second reading. He contrasts his experience as a preacher and evangelist with the comfortable Christians at Corinth. Speaking for his companions in ministry, Paul says, “We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.” Does our Christian practice have more in common with the ministry of Paul and his coworkers, or with the lives of the Corinthians?

If our practice of Christianity brings us wisdom, strength, and honor, then we might want to re-evaluate our path. Paul reports that he and his companions are hungry and thirsty, poorly clothed, beaten and homeless, and weary from their work. He writes, “We have become like the rubbish of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day.” Are we also sinking in esteem, or are we increasing in comforts and clothing and shelter?

St. Patrick, whose feast we celebrate today, was certainly in a position to enjoy the benefits of being a Christian citizen of the Roman empire. Patrick was born toward the end of the 4th century; his grandfather was a Christian priest, and his father was both a deacon and an important state official in Roman Britain. How easy it would have been to settle into a life of comfortable status in the hierarchies of both church and state.

But after being kidnapped, then escaping, and then having a vision, Patrick chose the life of a missionary to Ireland. Instead of allowing his Christian faith to confer its privileges and advantages, Patrick chose the path of Paul, experiencing hunger and thirst, discomfort, and weariness from his work.

How can we respond to Paul and claim our share of foolishness, weakness, and disrepute? Paul declares that he isn’t reproaching us “to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.” Paul’s admonishment would fail if it simply brought us shame for living in an era when the missions of Paul and Patrick have proven so successful. But the real success for Paul and Patrick is not that we have a more comfortable and socially advantageous faith. The real success would be if we found opportunities to be fools for Christ, to become weak, and to be among people who don’t automatically honor us. How can we take a step in that direction today?

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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