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Summary: Those who do not know the Resurrected Christ either have to attain some kind of Buddhist impassivity or despair of any relief.

Tuesday of the 30th Week in Course 2019

Saint Narcissus

Today St. Paul contrasts our life in this world with our hope to live eternally in the arms of the Blessed Trinity. His reflections are particularly apt for Catholics today. Because of the evil done by a small minority of priests and religious, the Church is in poor repute. Every major media outlet holds all Catholic clergy as a target whenever anyone is reported to be an abuser. The anti-Catholic bias that has been a heritage of American Protestantism since the first settlers landed on the Eastern seaboard has gotten a B-12 injection, and aims their B-1 bombers indiscriminately at any Catholic targets. It’s schadenfreude gone wild.

I’d like to comment on Paul’s use of the word “groan” twice in this passage. In the first instance, he is speaking of the groaning of all creation under the weight of physical, moral and spiritual evil. Think of the noises associated with earthquakes, raging fires and floods, but also the moans of the hungry, the victims of war and other violence. And he specifically tells us that all creation groans with one voice, and is in travail as one experience. We and the earth do both together. So those who do not know Christ either have to attain some kind of Buddhist impassivity or despair of any relief.

But our groaning, we who have the gifts of the Holy Spirit, see and do things differently. The Holy Spirit changes everything. In fact, St. Paul even uses a different word, ste????µe? to describe our groaning. What is the difference? The difference is the end we have in mind. It is not hell, or Sheol, or Hades, but adoption into the Holy Trinity, our real family, and “the redemption of our bodies,” which is the resurrection of the dead. In heaven, there will be no more moaning.

Some commentators have said that this is also a commentary on the value of praying in tongues, which is sometimes like a low moan or groan. If we have this gift, I can testify for myself that it is a great aid and focus. I’m a pretty proud guy, sometimes even arrogant. I love to hear myself talk and I get proud of my erudition. So praying in tongues, which is giving up my own speech to the Holy Spirit’s speech, takes me down a peg, and I need it. St. Paul elsewhere reminds us that we don’t know what to pray for much of the time, because we do not know what the best is–and that’s what God wants for us. So we let the Holy Spirit, who discerns the depths of our soul and the depths of the Trinity, do the praying. By doing so we join our prayer to that of the Blessed Virgin’s–“be it done to me according to Thy word”–and to that of Jesus in the garden. We must always pray to the Father, “Thy will be done.”

The very phrase “Saint Narcissus” sounds oxymoronic. After all, Narcissus was the mythological hunter who was so beautiful that when the goddess Nemesis was angry with him, “She led him to a pool; there, the man saw his reflection in the water and fell in love with it. Although he did not realize in the beginning that it was just a reflection, when he understood it, he fell in despair that his love could not materialize and committed suicide.”

Our Saint Narcissus was just the opposite. God gave him long life, in the first, second and part of the third centuries. He fell in love with Jesus, with God Himself, and was at least eighty “when he was made the 30th bishop of Jerusalem. More than a century had then elapsed since the city was destroyed by the Romans, and it had since been rebuilt as Aelia Capitolina by the Emperor Hadrian. In the year 195, St Narcissus, together with [the] bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, presided over a council held by the bishops of Palestine in Caesarea, and it was decreed that Easter was to be always kept on a Sunday, and not with the Jewish Passover. According to Eusebius, the bishop performed many miracles. One miracle of note, as Eusebius testified, had occurred during the Easter Vigil when Narcissus changed water into oil to supply all the lamps of the church.” So we owe him a great deal for that final acknowledgment that the defining moment of the Christian faith is the Resurrection of Our Lord, the first-born from the dead.

He also became one of the best examples of forgiving enemies, when a conspiracy of three Christians accused him of a vile crime. Narcissus forgave them from the heart, but soon left to become a hermit. It took three bishops to replace him. Later he returned as bishop, but was very old, and died at age 116. So we pray, St. Narcissus of Jerusalem, pray for us.

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