I once heard our personalities compared to a house. In a typical home there is a welcome space, perhaps a sitting room. Here we greet people, we are hospitable and put on our best face. Then there is the kitchen, or, if you are very grand, a dining room. Here we let the mask slip a bit, as over meals we share thoughts and feelings. There are even occasional rows and reconciliations. Elsewhere in the house is the bedroom. This is a place of passion, dreams and sleep. It is a private place where only the very closest person is admitted. Finally, there is an attic, or some other storage place. This place can be chaotic, with things piled up higgledy-piggledy, some to be dealt with, some forgotten. No one is allowed in here.
I thought of this when I read the second reading today (2 Corinthians 4.13-5.1). Here Paul is talking about our inner person (he says ‘man’ of course) and our outer person. The visible outward person, he reminds us, can go through ups and downs, failures and successes. In time this outward person will inevitably age and the years will take their toll. But within us there is an inward, invisible person. Here we are open to God, here the Spirit of God and the grace of God are at work within us day by day. Here we can be renewed, strengthened, encouraged even if externally there are setbacks and discouragements. Here we can be strong even if outwardly we are enfeebled by illness or age. God is at work in all of us, from the sitting room to the attic.
I once knew a Franciscan quite well, and then our paths diverged I did not see him for 20 years. When we met up again I was astonished. He looked hardly a day older. I commented on it. ‘Yes’ he said, ‘I spend a lot of time praying before the Blessed Sacrament, and when you are there you are in eternity and outside time.’ I think his tongue was in his cheek, but both then and now I am not so sure. He was a man of great personal austerity and might have been saying what he believed – or he might have been pulling my leg. Or both. Whatever: he had a point: in Christ, we are always new, each day setting out afresh, each day open to renewal.
It’s important to remember that Paul was writing about the resurrection, telling the Christians in Corinth that God who raised Jesus would raise us in our turn and place us in his presence. ‘That is why there is no weakening on our part’ he says. You could say that this teaching of St Paul is bracing. It can sound like muscular Christianity. Well, there is a need for resilience in our spiritual pilgrimage. Sometimes it takes grit or stoicism. We musn’t make the mistake though of thinking that it all depends on us. Yes, we need strength but we must remember that Paul was telling the folks in Corinth that whether they doubted it or not, God was at work at the very core of their being. That thought alone is enough to make us feel stronger, quietly determined to press onwards, relying on the co-operation of our spirit with the grace of God at work in us.