8th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Jesus' "30 For 30" Documentary
Today I want to zoom in on just one line out of our letter to the Corinthians. The last couple of weeks we've been hanging around in 1st Corinthians Chapter 15. That's the long one on Jesus' resurrection. We've been getting lots of different thoughts out of that reflection there by Saint Paul. This is a famous line here and it seems like it's a quote from somewhere else. Paul tells us this: "[…] that the word that is written shall come about: 'Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
So St. Paul, while talking about Jesus death and resurrection, is saying this is the victory and it's the victory over sin and death. Now, obviously we know that. We're Catholics, we've known that our entire life.
But I want you to see how much victory is a theme that's used throughout the story of Israel and the story of the Scriptures: Even at our moment of greatest defeat, the moment of greatest failure—in the garden with Adam and Eve—already God was making a promise that someday there would be victory, someday there would be one who would stomp the head of the serpent, and that that one would come...some day. And then the rest of the Bible as the unfurling of this promise in action.
When God's people are oppressed: when they're stuck down in Egypt—God acts and gives victory—victory at the Red Sea, victory through the Ten Plagues, victory over the Philistines, victory over their enemies and things like that. And again and again we see this image of victory.
When Jesus comes proclaiming the gospel—what we have seen the last couple of weeks since the beginning of this year—he's proclaiming victory already. Remember this year started with him going into the synagogue in Nazareth and saying, as he reads this line about how captives are set free, a year of Jubilee is announced, and he says, "This is fulfilled in your very hearing." He's not saying, "I'm going to do victories." This is victory right now. "I'm doing victory. What we're doing right now: this is victory in your midst."
And that makes more sense of what he does. What's he doing in all these little towns as he goes around Galilee? He's throwing parties. He's gathering people together and they're having parties right there. And people are even asking him, "Why aren't you fasting?" He's like, "Because this is a time of victory. This is a time of party. This is a time of rejoicing." And so he's hitting the idea of "This is victory."
That's why it's so confusing then when he gets captured, when he gets beaten, when he gets denounced and scourged and crucified and killed, because you're like, "No no no no no. This is the victory guy, right? We’re the midst of a three year run of victory! What happened?" Victory fell apart (it seemed) on Good Friday.
But of course we know that's not where the story ends, right? That instead there is an even greater victory out of that. If it seemed to be victorious what he was doing in Galilee, it's even greater what he does in Jerusalem when he comes out of the grave on the third day. That's an even greater victory. That's the one Paul is referring to: "Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" And then that's what the apostles go out preaching: that Jesus is the victor of the world; that he has come as conqueror; that he has conquered not only the way they thought was going to happen throughout the Jewish Scriptures, but he's conquered an even bigger enemy. He's conquered sin and death and the grave himself, and the God has vindicated him and given him victory. (The words go together—vindication and victory.)
And that's what they go proclaiming everywhere they go. And Paul even goes and does it right under the nose of Caesar. All the little towns that Paul goes to in the Roman world? They're Roman colonies, meaning: Caesar dropped his closest companions, his soldiers, the most loyal people to him, in those towns like Phillippi and Corinth. And Paul shows up saying, "Caesar is not the king of the world; Caesar is not the victor over everything. Jesus is. Jesus is the victor and I'm here to proclaim his victory. That's my gospel—my proclamation, my announcement—that the victory has been won by Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed, the king. And that's what the message of the Early Church is: that victory has been achieved.
I bring this up because that's what Lent—and leading into Easter—really is. It's us coming back to the story of that victory. It's retelling it. Lent and Easter are like the "30 For 30" film of the story of Jesus. It's a mix of documentary footage—we get later reflections, with Peter being like, "I sure didn't think he was going to do it, and then dang, there it was!" You know? It's the apostles telling the story of their amazement. And then we get to see footage, we see clips, from the victory of Jesus. We see that moment on the cross where it seems like loss……Ope, comeback victory! Right? We see Jesus rising from the dead: "There he is! There he is in glory!" It's the highlight reel in the documentary of Jesus' great victory. That's what Lent and Easter are: telling us that story again, of the great victory.
So now we're coming up on that. We're about to start our annual rewatching of that "30 For 30" —of that documentary again. We're getting ready to dive in. Next Wednesday is Lent. I don't think that I need to review for you all the Lenten stuff of which you got to do, what you're going to give up. You know, no meat on this day, and fasting on that day, and stuff like that. You can find that in the bulletin.
But let's talk about what we can do to prepare. As we're getting ready for this season, as we're trying to choose what we should do, I know usually our first thought is, "What do I need to give up?" Candy. Chocolate. TV. Pop. Whatever. We're picking things, maybe as a family to give up, maybe as individuals. We're usually looking at that. And sometimes we look for extra things to do. What's the thing I can add? What's the thing I can do different? What's the thing that I can change in my life or do better in life? All those are great.
I do want to encourage you this—and I'm going to specifically say maybe consider doing this as your big thing this year as your penance—specifically try to learn something new. To add to your intellectual formation. To be more educated about our Faith. Every year you know we have those Bible studies and there in the back; there's like 10 sheets for different bible studies, different times, different groups. Look through them and say: Is there a time, is there a group, is there a place, that I can make work?" Because you might think, "Well [a book study] doesn't sound very hard." But having to block out a certain amount of time? That is hard in our busy schedules. And it requires a certain discipline, more than just being like, "I'm going to be nice to people for Lent; I'm going go and do this act." Having to say, "I'm going to dive into this study. I'm going to read. I'm going to listen. I'm going to pray. I going to talk to other people when I don't want to talk to other people...and share." That is actually a great penance.
When someone says, "You know I'm just better off giving up pop,"—and not taking anything away from that—but sometimes it might be a greater penance to be like, "No, I'm going to get a book. I'm going to watch a good show."
You know we've had Formed.org for months—I showed you about a year ago—the online service. Go there. Every year they're adding new stuff at Lent. Go to Formed.org. The code is still on our bulletin. Just take that little code put it in; it takes less than one minute to sign up for if you haven't already.
And that would be a great way to help your kids. Maybe you're like, "I don't think I can tell my kids, 'No television,' you know, given their age." Fine. Then say, "For every hour of Peppa Pig you're going to watch, well let's also watch an hour of something on Formed.org." And then do it to yourself. For every half hour "Parks and Rec" or "Friends" that you watch on Netflix say, "I'm going to watch a little half hour show or I'm going to listen to a little 30 minute thing on Formed.org."
Or spend the time on Catholic Radio or someplace else. Challenge yourself. If all you've ever done is simply give something up, or even do something extra—taking nothing away from that!—try something new, different, maybe scary, and say: "What can I learn? What kind of formation can I have? What kind of things can I pull to build myself up in that way?" Look for ways of understanding the story better. Look for ways of understanding the victory of God better. Take that in and soak that in.
I have one last thing, and it doesn't connect, and that's why I just took a big breath—because it doesn't connect with my flow at all. I do want to say this: Another thing that you can consider is having Masses offered. We always have room for more Masses. (We've gone through all of our All Souls' Day Masses.) Having a Mass offered—and then specifically if you’re coming to that Mass—is a great way of saying, "I'm not just saying I'm going to pray more," I've made it concrete. And I'm praying for someone who is important me. I'm making a sacrifice for someone important me.
So contact Peg at the office let her know someone that you want to pray for. It doesn't have to be a deceased person. It can be a person in trouble; it can be a person who's suffering; it can be a person who's away from the faith. It can be just a special intention. Put that in and then maybe especially say, "And I'm going to attend that Mass also." That's an extra little sacrifice: an external thing we do, that we don't normally think about in Lent, but might be a great way to build up our mind not just in learning about Jesus but also celebrating the victory he had in Lent and Easter.