It is fairly obvious that today’s reading from the beginning of St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians wants us to focus on the word “encouragement.” Offering encouragement to someone usually happens when circumstances call upon someone to move forward in the face of obstacles. We offer our support when a difficult situation arises.
St. Paul actually tells the community of Corinth that he was utterly weighed down beyond his strength and had even come to the conclusion that he was going to die. He is writing from Ephesus so there are several different conjectures as to what Paul is referring. However, no matter what he was dealing with, he immediately uses his distress as a way to connect himself with the afflictions of Christ.
Paired as it is with the passage from the Gospel of Matthew, the reading reminds us of the “reversal of fortunes” theme that runs throughout the New Testament. The Beatitudes that we hear at the very beginning of the first discourse of St. Matthew’s Gospel all tend to turn the conventional wisdom of the world on its head. That which we would tend to avoid becomes something that will lead us to God. Jesus is teaching his disciples in this first discourse. He is at the beginning of his public ministry and knows that he is going to be opposed by the leadership of Israel. That opposition will culminate in his humiliating death on a cross. So he tells his disciples that being poor, sorrowful, powerless, and humiliated are actually cause for joy.
St. Paul knows this lesson well. During his missionary activity, he was shipwrecked, beaten, flogged, stoned, imprisoned and even forced to fight wild animals. He is encouraged by these events because Jesus endured the same kind of treatment. If God asked this of his Son, then God could obviously ask it of those who follow Jesus.
The Eucharist is our memorial of the suffering and death of Jesus. However, it is also our memorial of his resurrection, a resurrection that is awaiting all those who are in need of encouragement.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator