|Collect for Persecuted Christians|
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. For as Christ's sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow.
Unlike the recommended collect for today, Saint Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians was addressed to a troubled community who suffered internal strife, not persecution from Jews or gentiles.
Corinth was a port city in the Mediterranean Sea on the isthmus between the Greek mainland and Peloponnese. Before today's canal was dug, goods were portaged from the Corinthian Sea to the Aegean Sea. This polyglot, international port had a well-deserved reputation for wild, riotous living. Homeless sailors are known to make the most of their leaves. The adjective corinthian still carries connotations of scandalous living.
Saint Paul founded a church in this den of iniquity and announced the story of Jesus' life, death and resurrection to them. Pickpockets, prostitutes and thieves enthusiastically embraced this Good News, but even the most sincere sometimes lapsed into their former foolishness. Saint Paul's two letters to them reflects the challenges he faced as he invited them to realize the worth and dignity Jesus had won for them. At times, being angry and upset, he seemed to write them off altogether.
And so he began his "Second Letter to the Corinthians" with a word of reassurance. The Father of compassion encourages us in our every affliction.
Saint Paul was both father and mother to his disciples; at times a stern disciplinarian, and then a reassuring consoler. It is never easy to pull off both roles gracefully, the best of parents does it awkwardly.
Similarly, Christians are often confused in our approach to God. Is he the stern judge of our sins or the reassuring comfort of the afflicted. Perhaps you've heard the expression, "He afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted."
So which one am I? Living uneasily in a threatened middle class, am I judged for not doing enough for the needy, or reassured because I've tried to do my part? Am I condemned as a guilty bystander or blessed for belonging to a saved community?
We are often teased for our chronic "Catholic guilt."
Unable to resolve this conflict, I can only suppose it's good to hear both words. I should welcome the Inspired Word that exposes my guilt and be ever-ready to own my sin. I should be equally ready to hear a word of reassurance from the Beautiful Savior who loves me.
I can receive either and prefer neither, with the confidence that, even from hell I would praise your Name.