It probably comes as no surprise to you that the composition of these reflections is both a pleasure and a challenge. When I put a great deal of thought and effort into them, I am half amused and half uneasy with the resounding silence about them. Amused because I know that my reaction would likely be the same; uneasy because I fear I may have gotten something wrong and I am conceivably misleading. So perhaps each of these should come with a caveat--read with pleasure, but be certain to think through on your own. I am now up to my fourth reflection on this cluster of verses, and I am loving the slow read of Romans that it forces me to do. Additionally, I am enjoying the reading I need to do in addition to come to some understanding about what these words mean. Struggling with the writing of St. Paul is a way of becoming more familiar with him--the sullen, self-centered, raging, towering, block of anger that I understood St. Paul to be from my days as a Baptist is vanishing to be replaced by a careful, thoughtful, ironic, and sometimes amusing teacher, a man deeply in love with Jesus Christ and deeply desiring that everyone around him should come to know Jesus in the same way. I hope that in some small way, working through this letter helps you to know St. Paul better and to appreciate this Jubilee year dedicated to him. If not, I hope then that at a minimum the tears of boredom clear up rapidly enough to read the next blog. God bless you either way.
At long last, I have come to the three verses that I really wanted to jump in and start talking about. This is the first intimation of a stream that will flow throughout the letter to the Romans. Indeed, it may be well considered the Christian headwaters of much Catholic theological and philosophical thought. (I say Christian headwaters because, obviously, this is a tradition that must stretch back in the Judaism, but I am unfamiliar with the line of reasoning prior to this writing by St. Paul. St. Paul, we must keep in mind, like Jesus, was a consummate Jew--a man who observed the law and witnessed and approved the martyrdom of St. Stephen.)
from Romans 1:18-20 (RSV)
 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth.
 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
 Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse;
18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
There are times in the Epistles that one needs to leave the lovely but sometimes thorny garden of DRC and KJV and enter into more readily comprehensible translations of the same ideas. While the RSV is approved for liturgical use and study, the NIV occasionally offers insights, however, I am not certain that the bias of the translators does not sometimes infiltrate the text and I use it cautiously. But I use it here because, while I am not a Greek expert, from consultation with the Greek Bible, the NIV seems to be a "more accurate" interpretation of the verses. In verse eighteen the chief verb appears at the beginning of the sentence and in the parsing of the Greek Bible it is designated as a "third person singular prest passive indicative" Thus "is being" seems slightly more in line with the thought--"is being" is more passive than "is revealed." Why all of this concern over a verb? In this case the passive voice strengthens the thought that the revelation of God in this way did not stop with the Incarnation or the revelation of Jesus Christ, but it is an ongoing act of revelation that comes as a grace from God to every generation. He is revealed through His works for all to see or not. We can will to be blilnd, but the revelation will be there nevertheless, and the revelation acts as prosecuting attorney. Because God chooses to reveal Himself in this way there is no excuse for one going to Heaven to say that he could not know God. It is entirely likely that a person might have good excuse for not knowing Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible--there may have been no one to preach, no one nearby who knew the good news. However, Jesus Christ is the culminating and fulfilling revelation of God the Father who graciously continues to reveal Himself in His creation. Now, unfortunately, what is being revealed to all is the wrath of God against those who will not know him. I don't know the particular circumstances that Paul might be thinking about with regard to this, but we might say the same thing today. The wrath of God (which cannot be separated from either the love of God or the Mercy of God, as they are all attributes of a simple and undivided whole) is being revealed today in ways that if we were only to open our eyes we could see. For example, the weakness of our Christian faith is revealed in the choice of leadership we are being given in the next election. It is revealed daily in the crime, vandalism, and exploitation of the poor that goes on each day. These are not God's signs of displeasure with those who are affected, but the natural "wrath" that develops from making choices that do not concur with God's will. As we instruct our children--there are consequences to our choices and we must be willing to live with those consequences if we are willing to take advantage of the choices.
Paul will go on in verses to follow to describe some of the ways in which God's wrath is being revealed, but the main point of the three verses presented here is that the wrath is being revealed against a people who do not only not accept Christ, but who refuse to understand God despite the fact that from the beginning of Creation God has made himself manifest to everyone.
What is startling here is the line of thought that says that a person ignorant of religion, ignorant of Christ, ignorant of all the trappings of civilization, may still know God. God is revealed in the book of creation just as he is revealed in the Word. The specificity of that revelation is less than the fullness of Christ, but it is nevertheless clear and those who refuse to see it have no excuse. In short, all people can know God through his Creation., and this creation reveals God's will. This is Paul's answer, and the Catholic answer to the question, "Can an Atheist have a reasonable ethics?" Yes, if he is attentive to God's revelation in natural law, even while ignoring the fact that it is revelation. Natural Law is a sure sign of God--a clear message that anyone can and must see and obey. There is no getting around it--God and His will are made manifest in the smallest events that occur in the world.
This is one of the primary building blocks in the construction of a Catholic, Christian theology--God may be known through the use of the gift of reason applied to the revelation implicit in the natural world. Faith can be built upon and supported by judicious use of reason under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Catholics have long held this belief, which is why it is so confounding and obnoxious to hear the Catholic Church (although not individual Catholics) being accused of anti-intellectualism. The Church is indeed the mother of the prudential use of reason in coming to know and understand God. Her saints (from St. Paul on) have consistently taught this, and it is this line of thought that supports and reifies the authority of the Magisterium to interpret scripture and indeed the events of the everyday.
If St. Paul had given us no other gift, this was one of the very finest he could have blessed us with--the gift of reason used in defense of and support of faith. Faith and reason do not require compartmentalization of the human person, rather together with the Holy Spirit, they allow for the complete integration of the human person. Is there any wonder that Pope Benedict wanted us to spend some time reflecting on this great Saint and his gift to us in the Epistles?