Book: In the Thick of his Ministry
Author: Carlo Maria Martini
The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, pp. 91
Excerpt from Foreward:
The core of these reflections is the study of passages from the Second Letter to the Corinthians, in which we find Paul in the thick of his ministry. "Here we find Paul in the hard slog of his ministry. After twenty years of it, during which he has passed through so many trials, disappointments and difficulties, he speaks as a servant of the Gospel in the midst of the daily grind." The approach creates immediate links with its audience, in our case they were young priests working in pastoral situations requiring a great expenditure of energy to cope with all kinds of problems and difficulties. Hence the Cardinal's reflections will also be of interest to anyone else working in the service of the Gospel and this is why we have decided to make them available to the public.
Excerpt from Book:
Suffering and Comfort
"Grant us, Lord, to begin our day in your sight, to understand your plan for us. Grant us a broad vision of what you call us to, so that we may grasp each thing that happens in our day in the context of your mystery of love for humanity.
Grant us, O Father, to understand Christ, the centre of our lives and pastoral work."
Amid the Daily Grind
We have taken Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians as the meditation text for our retreat. I have been reflection on it for many years and I am very attached to it because it shows us Paul in the thick of his ministry. The Apostle is not day-dreaming, he has no illusions, as for example we might have in our seminary days when we naturally created fantasies about our future ministry. I this text we find Paul in the hard slog of his ministry. After twenty years of it, during which he passed through so many trials, disappointments and difficulties, he speaks as a servant of the Gospel in the midst of the daily grind. So we feel he is very close to us.
While he is writing the letter Paul is experiencing three main trials.
The first is feeling himself rejected by the majority of his Jewish brothers and sisters. He thought that Jesus' first intention was to give him with the mission of preaching to the Jews, as he did when he went from city to city preaching in synagogues. He imagined that, despite inevitable difficulties, the Jews would understand, but this proved to be an illusion and his mission to them has failed . . . .
The second trial has arisen from internal disputes in the communities. The Apostles dreamed of united communities, harmonious, enthusiastic and unanimous. Instead, his bitter experience — previously expressed in his First Letter to the Corinthians is to find communities in which there are many serious rifts . . . .
The third trial is internal. Paul refers to it discreetly but plainly. It is difficult to understand what these sufferings might be. . . .
Resonances of the Second Letter to the Corinthians
Three things stood out when I read through the whole letter:
1. Firstly I was struck by the "extreme confidence in his own charisma" expressed by Paul throughout.
. . . . We find a man who is absolutely certain that everything around him may crack but not his own charisma. Even when he gives vent to his sufferings most forcefully, he emerges absolutely certain of the charisma that has been given to him. . . .
This is impressive, because his troubles could have made him weaken and become afraid. They might have made him wonder: Is this really my charisma? Is it that strong? Must I trust it to last? . .
We may suffer internal and external misfortunes, so many things can fail, but nothing can separate us from God's love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord, who chose me and called me.
2. This strong faith in his own charisma persists in "humble, obscure an painful circumstances." . . .Paul hoped he would reach a multitude. Instead he is only reaching small communities with little effect on public opinion. These humble, obscure and painful conditions bring daily problems: people's malice, inconstancy, the betrayal of friends, machinations, deciding who are true and who are false apostles, in a medley of doctrines and claims. . . .
Such circumstances, which would normally have caused confusion, sadness and dismay, are in contrast to his strong faith in his own charisma: everything can fail but not this certainty.
3. From many pages of the letter it stands out that all this is going on while at the same time he feels "an unshakeable love for his community." We see that people who are rather unkind and hostile to Paul are constantly loved tenderly and constructively. . . .
These are three points for you to ponder in your re-reading or -rehearing of the letter. I listened to it again asking myself the following question: How does Paul cope with the trials of his ministry and how do I cope with situations like his? This question makes the letter very relevant to us.