Mass for the feast of Saint Dominic often begins with the antiphon In medio ecclesiae, 'in the middle of the Church', or 'in the midst of the assembly' ... he opened his mouth. In the very remarkable first reading Paul speaks of life at the heart of the Church, within the mystery hidden from before the ages but now revealed: Christ with us, Christ in the midst of us and we in the midst of Christ, a simple identification of Christ and His body the Church. 'In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the church'.
The struggle of Paul at the heart of the mystery that now contains him is in the first place about faith, knowing and understanding the mystery within which we have been called to live. We know from elsewhere that this was a personal struggle for Paul. It is not just that he, like Jesus, has to work hard to initiate the disciples into an understanding of the mystery. Paul has to work hard to keep himself within that mystery, focused on what it means and what it requires of him personally.
It is about faith then, knowledge and understanding of what has been revealed, and the struggle to remain with that, to be in Christ and in his Church, to find Christ and his Church in us.
The gospel reading is also about something happening 'in the midst of the assembly'. The man with the withered hand is asked to stand in the middle and the hand is healed. The impotent hand has lost its ability to do the things hands do: to reach out, to offer peace, to lend a hand, to help, to pick people up. The outstretched hand can symbolise charity and all the practical and concrete ways in which we can love others. Once healed and restored all these things are possible again. Then faith can work through love. What is in our mind and heart, what is on our lips, can find its way also to our hands so what we have come to believe about Christ and his presence with us can be practised in love.
So faith, and love, and hope too. Paul gives us another famous phrase in today's reading: 'Christ in you, the hope for glory'. In all the struggles of life this is the foundation of our hope and its surest guarantee. It is not just a question of optimism or confidence but of being established in Christ, Christ dwelling in us. So faith, hope, love, as Paul says in the opening verses of Colossians, give shape to the Christian experience: knowing the mystery through faith, living it in love, persevering in the struggle on account of the hope that is ours.