Catholic Church: July 2008 Archives

from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual grace, to strengthen you: 12 That is to say, that I may be comforted together in you, by that which is common to us both, your faith and mine. 13 And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that I have often purposed to come unto you, (and have been hindered hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. 14 To the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor; 15 So (as much as is in me) I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are at Rome.

from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

11For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

12That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

13Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

14I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

15So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

In Greek

Paul expresses his longing to see the Church of Rome. This has been a goal of many of his missionary trips and he had yet to set foot in the place. Little did he know that soon enough he would find his last residence there.

The purpopse of his mission to Rome? This may be among the more beautiful sentiments and emotions expressed in this letter--"that I may impart unto you some spiritual grace, to strengthen you: That is to say, that I may be comforted together in you, by that which is common to us both, your faith and mine. " For mutual strength and comfort. In the company of believers, even believers we have never met, if we are rightly focused, we should experience this mutual aid society. I know that when I walk by a cubicle where there is some evidence, no matter how small, of Christian belief, I am comforted--there is a sense that here is someone else upon whom I could rely for prayer and support in the midst of the storm. To this end, I have discretely displayed six different small icons and a plaque bearing the biblical admonition, "This is the day the loard hath made, let us rejoice and be gald in it." And having these, I have been approached from time to time to pray with others who are undergoing trials. Openness about our faith is something Paul will mention again--indeed in the verse that follows today's passage, when he launches into the profound theological reflections that make up the body of the letter. However, he touches on one of the reasons for it here--when we are in community, part of the body, we should support one another as the body supports all of its parts. It isn't an option, it is a requirement of a fully functioning body. Indeed, we don't have the "option" to respond to calls for prayers from those around us, we have the responsibility--prayer functioning something like the lungs, heart, and immune system of the body as a whole.

Paul goes on to say that he has often thought of coming to Rome, but the providence of God has not yet determined the time for it. The love that comes through these words, while expressed in something of a restrained fashion, perhaps because of the need for translation, is rooted in Christ and profound to the depths of St. Paul's being. If we refer to the Greek, the first word expressed in verse 11 is much more plangent than , "I long to see you." The Greek word means to yearn after or intensely crave possession. Longing is nice, but yearning speaks of a deeper beat of the heart. And part of this yearning is for what is expressed in verse 13, he longs to come to help the people within the Church to grow and to help the Church itself to grow in numbers (that I might have some fruit among you.)

Verse 14, while still within the salutation and greeting, begins a theme that will be repeated throughout the letter. Paul notes that "To the Greeks and to the barbarians, to the wise and to the unwise, I am a debtor." Which is to say, that Paul takes the wisdom of God from where it is to be found--sometimes with the wise, sometimes with the simple, sometimes with the people who profess His name, sometimes with those who know Him but dimly. It is a credo of courage and the root of the Catholic tradition. It is why the Church was unafraid to translate the Bible into many languages (after a time) and also why the liturgy is so constructed as to reflect some elements of the culture in which it is celebrated without altering the eternal center of the Mystery celebrated. There is wisdom to be found all around us--God speaks to us through the people we meet and the events that occur in the day. If we screen out ninety percent of what He has to say because it does not come from an approved source, then we deprive ourselves of enormous benefits potentially available to us. We should follow St. Paul's example and be indebted to wise and simple, greeks and barbarians.

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from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)
8 First I give thanks to my God, through Jesus Christ, for you all, because your faith is spoken of in the whole world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make a commemoration of you; 10 Always in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length I may have a prosperous journey, by the will of God, to come unto you.

from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

9For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

10Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

In Greek

Here, we learn something interesting about the Roman community--Paul has yet to visit them. He writes from Corinth--most scholars place the date of the later sometime in the fifth decade of the first century--perhaps 52 A.D. Paul is about to embark on a journey to Jerusalem to deliver some of the money and relief he has received from the Churches in Asia Minor to the Church at Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, he will be arrested and imprisoned for the final time--and he will at last achieve his goal of traveling to Rome.

In the words of greeting, Paul at once expresses his deep love for the Church of Rome, his desire to go there, and his constant prayer for them. He is the role model for intercessory prayer, demonstrating in thought, word, and deed that one can pray for people one has never seen.

Because Paul has never visited with the Romans, the letter has a peculiar character. Most of the other letters attempt to address an immediate problem within the community. However, the letter to the Romans does not do so. Instead, it is a deeply theological reflection on the meaning of Christianity and of the salvation that God has fashioned for all people through time.

(The substance of this entry is derived from the introductory material to William Barclay's The Letter to the Romans, excerpts of which are available here.)

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from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)

1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 2 Which he had promised before, by his prophets, in the holy scriptures, 3 Concerning his Son, who was made to him of the seed of David, according to the flesh, 4 Who was predestinated the Son of God in power, according to the spirit of sanctification, by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead; 5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith, in all nations, for his name; 6 Among whom are you also the called of Jesus Christ: 7 To all that are at Rome, the beloved of God, called to be saints. Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 8

from The Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)

1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

2(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

3Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

4And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

5By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

6Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

7To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

[In Greek]

First, a note on the Greek site listed above. It is amazing and beautiful--the requested text appears in Greek. Upon mouseover, the word is parsed and defined. My particular reason for using for this passage was to get the particular word in Greek used here for "slave" so that all of the nuance could be understood. (Mouseover and see.)

Second, a short personal comment. While I've undertaken to attempt this way of honoring St. Paul, I must admit from the beginning my own defects in this mission. I am NOT a theologian in any professional sense, nor am I a qualified biblical scholar. For those things that do not spring from my own head (definitions of words and nuances, etc.) I am indebted to any number of commentaries, but in the course of my writing i shall probably rely upon two--one that I've come to trust (William Barclay's), and one that is freely available in any number of locations on the web (Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary), which has a time-honored place in the protestant tradition.)

Third, before comment, allow me to say that this may be the only passage of Romans on which I am capable, on my own steam, of making any intelligible comment at all. I invite you all to share with me as we go along, and so enrich the experience for all of us.

Now to Paul, who was to have been the centerpiece of this entry. In this, possibly the longest of the salutations in the letters, Paul sets out to describe clearly who he is and what place he holds in the line of the revelation of God. We note first that Paul is doulos of Jesus Christ. Quick reference to the Greek Bible tells us that doulos is a word used to refer to a slave--either literal or figurative, and either voluntary or involuntary. Both the DRC and the KJV use the milder term "servant," and that is a shame because it robs the statement of some of its impact and drama.

Because of its origin in the revelation on the road to Damascus we could look upon the inception of this slavery as involuntary and unasked for. However, there is no question that by the time the letters are written, Paul is the willing subject of his Lord--he sees slavery with Christ as more ennobling than freedom without Him.

Matthew Henry shares this insight:

He here builds his authority upon his call; he did not run without sending, as the false apostles did; kletos apostolos--called an apostle, as if this were the name he would be called by, though he acknowledged himself not meet to be called so, 1 Cor. xv. 9. Separated to the gospel of God. The Pharisees had their name from separation, because they separated themselves to the study of the law, and might be called aphorismenoi eis ton nomon; such a one Paul had formerly been; but now he had changed his studies, was aphorismenos eis to Euangelion, a gospel Pharisee, separated by the counsel of God (Gal. i. 15)

From Pharisee separated unto the law, to the new Pharisee, the real Pharisee, what the Pharisee set out to become--separated unto God--in this particular case through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

When we stop to think about it, Paul, of all the Apostles, probably has the greatest thing of all to boast about. He was so valuable to the faith, so important to what was to become Christianity, that he indeed was chosen, directly by Jesus Christ AFTER the earthly time of Jesus. Paul's closest direct encounter (that we have evidence us) was his approbation of the Martyrdom of St. Stephen. God raised up and invited into that elite company of the Founding Fathers, St. Paul. He used St. Paul's genius to inform, enlighten, and reveal much of the thought and understanding that would become the foundation of the Church. That's pretty phenomenal. As St. Paul writes his letter to the Romans, specifically to the Jewish community living in Rome, he is under house arrest for, basically, being a Christian. Not a good thing in the early years of the Empire.

So far we've gotten to the end of the first verse. Small wonder then that most commentaries are extended--although rarely protracted, and often densely argued, examining every shade of meaning of every word. Thus we launch into the second verse, which continues the pedigree by saying exactly who this was who called Paul to the Apostleship of Christ.

Paul is "set apart for the Gospel of God" which God himself had promised through the prophets. (The pronouns and their antecedents are a little unclear in the English translation, while, by their relationship within an inflected language are perfectly clear in their reference.) This gospel, this Good News, is the message of God's Son, Jesus Christ, and in this next set of clauses, Paul launches subtly into the body of his message and the core of the truth of Christianity because he notes that Jesus is and was really human--by the flesh, descended from the line of David the King, but by the Spirit of Holiness (God himself) declared, marked out, defined, decreed, appointed or specified (see the Greek) the Son of God in the Spirit.

Within the first four verses of this book even within the salutation of the Letter, Paul has already laid out a fundamental and "impossible" truth of the Christian Faith. Jesus Christ is both completely human and completely divine--human and God--the incarnation of the Spirit of Holiness that had come upon the prophets of old, who had met with Moses in the desert and who had led and guided His chosen people to this revelation for all people--Jews first and then gentiles.

It is this selfsame God-man who has given Paul the grace to be an apostle and to call all people to Jesus Christ, even those in the Jewish community living in Rome at the time. This community of Jews who are called by God to be Saints, holy people, separated from the world and devoted entirely to God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. To this singular people, Paul commends himself.

So, in a simple salutation, we have the recapping of two thousand years or more of the revelation of God to His people--the final emphatic statement of this revelation the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead. So, we encounter many of the central elements of our faith--essentials of the creed and essentials of our spiritual life before Paul even begins to make his argument. He's barely stepped through the door and he's already opened up the entire revelation of God for his audience. St. Paul is nothing, if not a fast worker, and a worker of great subtlety because he has already tied Jesus to one of the central figures of the Jewish faith and tradition--He has anchored Jesus squarely in the center of the chosen people of God, in such a way that He cannot be repudiated without repudiating the essentials of the faith.

And, I fear, the letter becomes only more dense. However, because I also do, subsequent comments will likely be shorter and more to the point because the essence of this should be the celebration of St. Paul and not the celebration of Steven blabbing on about St. Paul.

Hope this was helpful, useful, or otherwise to your taste. If you are more of a scholar than I am, please feel free to comment, correct, and help anyone who reads here better understand what St. Paul intends.

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Only yesterday did I emerge from my haze long enough to discover that Pope Benedict had declared for us a Jubilee year in honor of St. Paul. I wondered how I might go about making the Jubilee something significant for me and for the community at large.

I have to be honest, coming out of a fundamentalist background, St. Paul was never very high on my list of all-time favorite people. But, I discovered as I grew in my Catholic Faith, part of the reason for that was the way that he was selectively interpreted and sometimes misunderstood. As I came to read his letters for myself with a slowly growing Catholic insight into the meanings, I came to understand him more accurately if still not truly "liking" him.

St. Paul is credited with "inventing" Christianity. I don't think that it was ever part of his purpose to do so; however, it was obviously part of God's plan for him that he should provide some of the foundational truths that would support the fledgling faith when it had been ousted from the synagogues.

I hesitate now, because the enormity of what I would like to do falls about me--but I think I would like to walk through the Letters of St. Paul in the course of the year. Given my own way, you all know which one I'd start with (or at least the three people who still read this on a regular basis do); however, I've decided to try to go through them in canonical order--and that is what causes hesitation. The first of the letters is by far the most daunting and the most fraught with peril. Calvin, Luther, and Barth all wrote enormous commentaries on the Epistle to the Romans. Indeed, it is the thought encapsulated in Luther's commentary that is a lengthy, but still compressed history of the reformation, counter-reformation, and religious strife from then until now. Calvin, of course didn't help, nor did any of the lengthy list of commenters on Romans.

However, as I have no intention of being deeply theological in my approach--wanting merely to share what is possible for an ordinary person with a few study aids--I don't think we have much concern that "Flos Carmeli's commentary on Romans" is likely to break loose with any earth-shaking truths that have not already been said, and said better by many other more capable commenters.

And so the question becomes whether or not to follow through on this venture. I ask it publicly, not so much for an answer as to offer it up to God to see what He might have to say about it. If it would serve His purposes, I would gladly do this despite my own fear of failure. It would be a marvelous way to celebrate the year.

So, we shall see. Until then. . . rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say it, rejoice. Because we can do all things through Christ who strengthens each one of us.

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How to Be Enlightened


I excerpt an essay by the Reverend Professor Christopher Seitz, not as a piece of triumphalistic crowing, but to show how similar we are and in what a similar position we find ourselves to the American Episcopal Church:

from "Enlightened American Episcopalianism"
Revd. Professor Christopher Seitz

This needs to be confronted as a reality lest the dynamics of the present season fail to be grasped. Traditional Christians should not assume they are the possessors of a Catholic faith and practice that is being challenged by a new view of things, albeit a new view with a lot of power and influence. Traditional Anglican teaching on the Bible and human sexuality, even granting a range of traditional views on exegesis and interpretation, is not in any position of authority or antecedence, so far as enlightened Episcopalianism is concerned. At most it is quaint and out of date, and need not be taken seriously except as one of several post-modern options. The idea of a range of catholic and traditional understandings of the interpretation of scripture, outside of which there is error and misjudgment, is not possible for even the most generous enlightened Episcopalian. All interpretations are more or less valid, because the truth of the matter is that in the area of human sexuality, anecdote and personal experience are the only arbiters. That is what enlightenment in the nature of the case means. Something is unequivocally true because progressive Episcopalians know this is the case. Everyone else is either an opponent, or someone lacking the proper time spent with the enlightened ones, or is ignorant and culturally backward. But an enlightened progressive will not usually deliver this last verdict publicly because it is more congenial to defer to post-modern accounts of everything being a possible interpretation, or the view that 'enlightenment' comes through shared experience and just more time with the knowledgeable ones.

We can see in this discussion much of the modern Progessive Catholic viewpoint. Fortunately for the Catholic Church, we have a teaching magisterium which serves to moderate the swings we might otherwise take as popular opinion seeks to change centuries-old established tradition rooted in fundamental truth. It appears that parts of the Anglican communion are no longer able to accept the authority of scripture or of Church Teaching. It is possible that many progressive Catholics would find themselves in a similar boat.

That said, it is extremely important to have this agitating progressive voice to constantly speak up for those who we might otherwise find cause to treat quite poorly. It is undeniable that the human animal is a master of making distinctions, most specifically distinctions that redound to personal good often at the expense of others. When the progressive voice urges us to embrace the homosexual community, what we should hear there is not the extremes of what that can mean, but the necessary reminder that we are all sinners and should afford all sinners the love that we ourselves desire. We should not accept homosexuality, but we are absolute required to accept, embrace, and love homosexuals. A long while back Tom at Disputations shared a brief admonition that I had always believed, but have, as a result of his work, been able to place words on:

"Love the sinner, ignore the sin."

That's what we should hear in the cries for reform of progressive Catholics. We can ignore the error of what they are saying and look behind the words for the root cause they are invoking. When Sister Joan demands ordination of women, it is good to look beyond those words at how the Church, and we as members of the Church have or have not treated women fairly within our communities.

We have much to learn from each other. Strip away the rhetoric and see if there is an underlying truth, and underlying sense of hurt that may have resulted from past sins, and then adjust within anything that requires adjustment so that we don't unintentionally harm again.

All of this from the reflections of a beleaguered Episcopalian on the ongoing present pain of his Church. We have much to learn from one another.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Catholic Church category from July 2008.

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