Sunday, June 17, is the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time and Father’s Day.
Mass Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24, Psalm 92: 2-3, 13-16; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34.
“We are always courageous ...” These words from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians (5:6) may perhaps bring to mind images such as a soldier bravely charging an enemy line, or a firefighter running into a burning building to save a child’s life, or perhaps even a political activist defiantly resisting an unjust government. All of these, we would agree, are good examples of courage.
Yet the examples just mentioned can be misleading about what St. Paul means. Such images of heroic actions can lead us to think of courage as a kind of inner strength, or a complete lack of fear that enables one to engage in dramatic and dangerous actions.
But according to such an understanding, being courageous is a matter of relying on one’s own strength and, perhaps, also of “short-circuiting” rational thought. In order to engage in courageous action, the thinking goes, one must trust in one’s own strength and also ignore any danger involved.
What St. Paul means by courage, though, is quite different from this. The Greek word for being courageous that Paul uses in today’s reading (tharreō) is one that also connotes a person’s having certainty in a matter. The “matter” in question here is Christ’s promises regarding the rewards of eternal life.
So when Paul says he is always courageous, he is touting neither his own inner strength nor an ability to ignore the danger of death that he faces. Rather, he is boasting about Christ’s grace, which has given him the certitude of faith that everyone “must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
St. Paul’s grace-filled certainty in Christ’s promises enables him to conquer the natural fear of death, not to pretend it doesn’t exist. It is because of his confidence in Christ’s grace — not his own strength — that he writes that he “would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord” (5:8).
St. Paul, therefore, teaches us that there is a deep and abiding connection between being courageous and having certitude about one’s faith in the Gospel of Christ. This means that if we desire to be courageous like St. Paul, then we must also strive to deepen our faith in Christ’s Gospel.
Of course, we must remember that such growth in faith, about which Christ speaks in the Gospel today (Mark 4:27-28, 31-32), ultimately comes through the Holy Spirit, who “constantly perfects faith by his gifts, so that Revelation may be more and more profoundly understood” (Dei Verbum 5). Yet we are still called to participate in this process of growth.
Above all, our participation takes the form of personal prayer and reception of the sacraments, but it also involves our engagement with the sacred Tradition of the Church. Such engagement can include our devotional reading of spiritual works and the Scriptures as well as more intellectually focused study of the Scripture, the Catechism or works of theology.
When we cooperate with Christ’s grace in such ways, we can hope to receive “a lively understanding of the contents of Revelation” (Catechism, 158) that will enable us, like St. Paul, to always be courageous.
Dominican Father Jordan Schmidt is an instructor in sacred Scripture at the
Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.