success stories

How to deal prudently with grave difficulties
according to St. Paul

Taken from the book: In the Thick of His Ministry by Carlo Maria Martini
The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN

Verses 1:15-2:2 in the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians speak more particularly about a specific cause of misunderstanding. It appears that Paul has proposed to make a certain journey and then he did not. This has given rise to all sorts of notions, remarks, insults, calumnies and quarrels in the community. It seems incredible to us: merely a journey postponed. People build mountains out of molehills. Some situations in parishes and deaneries grow out of nothing, they blow up out of some little thing and then people take sides and the small thing becomes a great cloud, which it is hard to know how to disperse. Things like this happen and sometimes cause serious suffering.

So we can well imagine how Paul's put off journey gave rise to a web of speculation and criticism, interpretations and quarrels between different parties, mutual insults, and grave insults to the Apostle.

Paul had to cope with these difficulties. How does he behave? In two ways.

Firstly he reaffirms his fundamental honesty: We decided to come to you and if we changed our plan it was for a grave reason. So I beg you to believe there is nothing behind to it speculate about.

He enters the discussion and deals with it. This first way in which Paul explains himself humbly but bravely may be called pragmatic.

His second approach is very Pauline, fine and unexpected. Following the practical explanations of Apostle rises to a splendid Christological contemplation. The incident gives rise to a supreme Christological affirmation. "The Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him to the glory of God." This is one of the oldest testimonies of liturgical prayer and the Amen. Then he makes a fundamental statement on baptism and the anointing of the Spirit: "But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has commissioned us: he has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee" (1:19-22).

Transformed into comfort

There are two things w should stress here. The first is not to lose our heads in these situations as sometimes happens. If we give away to animosity we always find "dear friends" who stir things up: Did you hear what so and so said? You can't tolerate that; it is a disgrace.

We should stick to the facts, reduce them to essentials and clarify them. I know it is difficult, especially when the press joins in and news reports turn a storm in a teacup into a tempest at sea.

So we should not lose our calm and remember that the devil continually stirs things up trying to create trouble, resentment and bitterness in us and others. Often in these situations the first requirement is to wait for things to calm down and not judge them hastily. Paul gave up a pastoral visit; he lets the waters rage and then when they have calmed down he writes this letter of explanation. This is a splendid example of prudence and wisdom in the difficult conduct of human relations in the ministry.

The second point to stress is that all this must be an occasion for growth, for deepening our faith. Then blessed are misunderstandings and bad tempers, blessed are the things they say against us. All these things are blessed if they are occasions for deepening our faith as Paul does when he contemplates Christ , his rightness, his straightness, always being God's "Yes". Thus having begun with a calumny against himself, that he cannot keep his word, Paul contemplates all God's promises in Christ for us.. Of course Paul must have suffered very much because he was very sensitive and it was bound to wound him that he was considered not to be a man of his word. But this suffering leads him to more insight into Jesus' straightness, consistency and fidelity: You alone, Jesus, are faithful, you are the only Lord whose "Yes" is constant and eternal, and from the depths of my suffering and humiliation I lean on you, the only one who never fails and is always faithful and true.

We can imagine Paul's suffering prayer being transformed into comfort. He starts from what has distressed and agitated him and is restored by contemplating Jesus.

Blessed are our difficulties, great and small, if they lead us to these steps of faith.