COLUMN: ‘But by the grace of God I am what I am’

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At times I find myself playing the “what if” game and maybe you do too. It goes something like this: what if I was married instead of single, or what if I went to this school instead of that school, or lived in this town instead of that town, or I took this job instead of that job, how different life would be. 

It seems as if St. Paul is playing this “what if’’ game in his Letter to the Corinthians (the second reading in the Catholic Mass for the weekend of February 7/8.-I Corinthians 15:1-11).

In the letter Paul seems to be pondering some “what if” questions. What if he were one of the first witnesses to the resurrection, how much different would life had been for him and for the early church? But he comes to the insight that through the grace of God he shares in the mystery of being called to be a witness to the dying and the rising of Christ. He says “but by the grace of God I am what I am, for his grace to me has not been ineffective...”

In the letter to the Corinthians St. Paul gives us one of the earliest Christian creeds. It’s much shorter than either the Apostles or the Nicene creed is that we say each Sunday at mass. This very basic creed is that Christ has died and Christ is risen and that Christ was seen alive by those first witnesses — the apostles, Mary Magdalene, 500 brothers and by Paul himself. Paul gives a list of witnesses since belief in the resurrection is central to our Christian faith.

In the first letter to the Thessalonians (the first letter written) he writes: “so if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even though, through Jesus God will bring with him those who have died” (4:14)

In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul suggests that the experience of the rising of Christ and our sharing in his mystery is not just for a few chosen elite super apostles. Given his experience this mystery of grace is open to all who accept a conversion to a new way of life — a new way of seeing and believing in God who is alive in and through us and those who walk by faith.

In some ways we know that his life has been happening where two or three (or more) are gathered in prayer; or when the word of God is read, shared, and lived out; when the sacraments are celebrated; and especially when we encounter him in service to a brother and sister in need through an act of mercy or word of justice. 

So we can say that the encounter with Jesus is not a game of if — the name of the game is when.

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