The one ‘who strengthens us’

The second reading speaks of living well in both humble times and rich circumstances. We can all relate to that: Who hasn’t had times in life when macaroni was the budget meal? And who hasn’t been able to splurge on a treat — at least an ice cream cone, if not a steak dinner — once in a while?

St. Paul knew about being rich and about being poor. He had been both welcomed into homes and run out of town; once he even had to be lowered over the walls in a basket. Paul worked hard — making his living as a tentmaker. And while there weren’t RVs back then, in Paul’s day there were still all sorts of tents, from utilitarian leather models to cloth-of-gold houses fit for traveling kings.

The secret, Paul said, was not to focus on material things, but on Christ, who strengthens us in all these different circumstances.

Look around the church today. Is it a rich place with lots of decorations and lights or a simple building with plain glass windows?

Look at what people are wearing. Are they in the latest fashions?

Or are their sneakers worn or their coat cuffs frayed a bit? Varying circumstances, indeed. And yet they’re all together in the same church, praying the same prayers.

I’ve been in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. The gold, mosaics and priceless paintings are amazing, even overwhelming.

I’ve also been in mission chapels with uneven floors and only candles for light.

Yet, the one “who strengthens us” was there with me in all these circumstances.

The psalm response this week — the familiar, beloved 23rd psalm — speaks of much the same things as Paul: changing circumstances. From restful waters to the dark valley. From enemies to a banquet without end.

How do your circumstances fit into this picture? Do you fear something evil right now? Or is the oil of gladness running down your face? Are you working hard at your version of tent-making, or wondering how to make the Social Security check last?

Life is a journey. Coming to church — no matter how rich or humble the building may be — each Sunday is a rest stop along the way. We come in and go out — well-fed or hungry — bringing our changing circumstances with us, like tents carried on our backs.

But the one who strengthens us in all those circumstances is unchanging and meets us there, walking beside us like a shepherd.

Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of many books.