If only you would put up with a little foolishness from me! Please put up with me. For I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God, since I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.
Since my earliest days in the ministry I have heard priests remark about their kind, patient and generous congregations who have to endure so much from their clergy. Every Catholic parish, even those well-served by saintly men, must put up with a little foolishness from their pastors.
Recently I heard on the radio General Stanley Allen McChrystal, fired by President Obama after an unfortunate faux pas, admitting that a leader makes mistakes every day. It comes with the territory.
Parents know that too. They realize it as they raise young children and they rediscover it again when their adult children reminisce about their childhood. They had no choice but to discipline their children as best they could with the hope that God's grace would heal all injuries, right all wrongs and forgive all sins.
I believe it was Blessed John Duns Scotus who observed that God blesses the work of his people, making their efforts fruitful a thousand times over. He invoked the story of the foolish farmer who broadcast his seeds in every which direction -- onto the footpaths, stones and thin soil -- only to reap a hundred times as much as he had sown. God cannot be outdone in generosity!
Working in Corinth amid gambling houses, taverns, brothels and dozens of weird religions, Saint Paul betrothed his disciples to Jesus, presenting them like a chaste virgin to Christ. "Why not aspire to purity?" he might have asked them as he imagined what God could do. But that was pretty hard for his people to imagine. Was he wrong to do so?
As he heard news about them later on he realized how far they had to go to attain such virtue. He realized that greedier men -- he sarcastically called them "super apostles" because they were so widely admired -- had sown a heretical gospel among them. It was a gospel that sounded more practical though it could end only in misery.
Tearing his hair out he asked, "Did I make a mistake when I humbled myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the Gospel of God to you without charge?" Like most parents and many priests, he did not hesitate to lay guilt on them in an effort to bring them to their senses. They must remember who their true "father" in the Gospel is; not the worthless, crowd-pleasing orators but himself, the shabby, homeless tent-maker whose preaching put people to sleep.
Even today, when people who know nothing about the Bible and little about Jesus, pick up Saint Paul's writing they meet a man whose human foibles and deep integrity speak to the heart. We call him a saint but, at the time, he was only a man, a fellow doing the best he could to serve his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.