I wonder if Paul, reflecting on his first letter to the newly minted Christians of Corinth, felt any embarrassment over how wrong he had been. I wonder if the passing of years, some of the Corinthians teased him about how it could have been that in those days he had been convinced that the world was about to end and how seriously recommended that they forget about their marriages and families and businesses and that they should simply and prayerfully devote their attention to the imminent second coming of The Lord.
In spite of this letter having been written when Paul was in what we might call an unnecessary crisis legislation mode, it remains enshrined in history because inaccurate though his immediate expectations turned out to be, all his letters, as well as those of his co-operators, were treasured by the community.
Today they remain an integral part of our liturgy not because every verse supports a major lesson that must be hammered home, but because they are our story, our history. They tell us where we are coming from and, in a way, where we are. Where we are ...still wrestling with the same questions but within a very different set of circumstances.
The process of understanding the day-to-day implications of being a Christian, of being a Catholic, is ongoing.
Paul struggled to define the Christian ideals relative to liturgy, sexuality, gender roles, social norms, etc. With his help the Christian population of the Mediterranean region evolved in their appreciation of the consequences of Jesus' teachings.
Sometimes they lost their balance, as did Paul himself when preoccupied with the end of time. He and they recovered and with the help of the Holy Spirit, they grew in wisdom and understanding.
Sometimes, I fear, many of us act as though that process is now complete ...as if we have all the answers and all is black and white. Well it isn't! The struggle continues because the questions and challenges never remain exactly the same. Nor do we.
To sit back comfortably and give yesterday's pat answers to today's complex questions is not enough.
There are, however, certain fundamental principles that are timeless. They are essentially Gospel principles with which most of us are familiar. It is in their application that we are constantly challenged.
I suggest to you that our great sin is to actively avoid that challenge. To let our eyes glaze over, to shrug off responsibility and, perhaps, along with it, our very identity, with that now ubiquitous, dismissive exclamation, "WHATEVER!"