September 6, 2023 at 9:09 a.m.
Saint Paul’s ‘greatest hit’
And a question for us: are we willing to be slaves of the Lord Jesus, no matter the cost?
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
The Second Reading we proclaim this Sunday comes from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. In many ways, this is Saint Paul’s “greatest hit” and its influence is immense for both Catholic and Protestant Christians. The excellent Scripture scholar, N.T. Wright, describes this letter of Paul as “neither a systematic theology nor a summary of Paul’s lifework, but it is by common consent his masterpiece. It dwarfs most of his other writings, an Alpine peak towering over hills and villages. … What nobody doubts is that we are here dealing with a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision.”
Let’s briefly examine the background and importance of this Pauline letter and then focus on what exactly Saint Paul is trying to teach us. As we mentioned, the Letter to the Romans is one of the longest letters of the apostle to the Gentiles. Most likely, Saint Paul wrote this letter in the year 55 or 56 A.D. Most scholars believe that Saint Paul had just received a collection that he wished to send to the Christian community in Jerusalem, who would have, no doubt, been under great persecution at the time. Paul would be writing to the early Roman followers of “The Way,” as Christianity was known, to encourage them in their struggle to keep the faith of Jesus in times of martyrdom and oppression.
What I find both fascinating and encouraging in the very first chapter of Romans is how Paul introduces himself to the people of the then-capital of the world, Rome. Paul describes himself in the New Testament Greek as “δούλος.” In some translations of this epistle into English, that term is rendered as “servant,” but the true meaning of the world is much more explicit. It actually means “slave.” The apostle is describing himself as a slave of the Lord Jesus, one who is set apart, completely devoted to the Lord Jesus and ready and willing to follow the great commission of the Lord Jesus to spread the Gospel no matter the cost. A question for us: are we willing to be slaves of the Lord Jesus, no matter the cost?
In addition, the seventh verse of Romans 1 concludes with a beautiful line: “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Even though we ourselves may not physically be living in Rome, each of us as Catholics are “Romans,” connected to the Church in Rome and we are called to be saints.
With this background in mind, what is Saint Paul urging us to do? Paul ultimately is reminding us as Catholics that we are to be in the world and to not be of the world. We are to learn to discern what is good and holy and right in a world that seems so often to mitigate against this effort.
The secularized world, so often combative toward the Christian, wants us to dismiss our gift of faith from our Father in heaven. For all of us who hold the Catholic faith, it is the dignity of our Christian faith and the living out of that faith in the world today as it is clearly, unequivocally, expressed in the Church in all she consistently teaches. Be covered in that gift of the Father. This is the way to life, true life in the Spirit, in and through Christ and his Church.
We need to cease to follow the “way of death” which so pervades the contemporary American mindset. “The Didache,” one of the earliest Christian writings describes the “way of death” as follows:
“And the way of death is this: First of all it is evil and full of curse: murders, adulteries, lusts, fornications, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rapines, false witnessings, hypocrisies, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, filthy talking, jealousy, overconfidence, loftiness, boastfulness; persecutors of the good, hating truth, loving a lie, not knowing a reward for righteousness, not cleaving to good nor to righteous judgment, watching not for that which is good, but for that which is evil; from whom meekness and endurance are far, loving vanities, pursuing requital, not pitying a poor man, not laboring for the afflicted, not knowing Him that made them, murderers of children, destroyers of the handiwork of God, turning away from him that is in want, afflicting him that is distressed, advocates of the rich, lawless judges of the poor, utter sinners. Be delivered, children, from all these.”
Children of God, be delivered from this way of death and embrace the way of life. By following the words of the Apostle Paul, let us be slaves of Christ Jesus, obedient to his will, and ultimately, to become saints.