Tag Archives: Letter to the Romans

Creator of Heaven and Earth

Paul the Apostle begins his Letter to the Romans stating his belief in God, who reveals himself in creation. “Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made.” (Romans 1:16-25) 

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” our psalm response for Tuesday declares. Yet Paul sees human beings blind to the God of creation, as they create gods of their own.

As an apostle, Paul has been called to announce the message he has received from God. Jesus has come as Savior and Lord.

In his letter Laudato sí , on caring for the earth our common home, Pope Francis notes that certain times in history provoke a spiritual crisis which leads to a deeper faith in God. The Babylonian captivity when the Jewish people went into exile in the 6th century before Christ and the fierce Roman persecution of Christians at the beginning of the 4th century AD are examples he cites.  

These crises led to  “a growing trust in the all-powerful God: ‘Great and wonderful are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways ‘ (Rev 15:3). The God who created the universe out of nothing can also intervene in this world and overcome every form of evil.” (74) 

Our world now is paralyzed and will not be the same. Are we at one of thos crucial moments? Will God intervene?  God, the Father, Creator of heaven and earth, God who is surprisingly creative? 

Don’t forget God, the Creator, the pope says. If we do ” we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.” (75)

Important as it is, science alone is not enough, the pope says. We need to look also to our own tradition for hope and inspiration. Our prayers, our sacraments, currents of our spirituality waiting to be recognized and developed can guide us now to what God has planned from eternity.

If sacred history tells us anything, God the Creator never stops fashioning a beautiful unknown.

Paul’s Letter to the Romans, a basic statement of faith, is timely.

5th Sunday of Easter: Bless them All

Audio homily here:

When we read the Acts of the Apostles in the easter season, we see another form of church. The church of Paul and Barnabas is certainly different in structure from the church we know today.

There were no parishes or dioceses then. In Rome, if you asked where the Vatican was, they’d point you to a race course on a hill on the fringe of the city where the emperor had his private games. There were no monasteries or religious communities or other Christian institutions.

When Paul and Barnabas went to different places, they went to the Jewish synagogues where they spoke about Jesus as the Messiah. The reaction to their message was mixed, at best. At times they were violently rejected, but some Jews and some “God-fearing gentiles” – non-Jews who appreciated Judaism and its spirituality– accepted their message about Jesus and his promise of salvation.

The synagogue was the normal “catechumenate” where early Christian missionaries like Paul and Barnabas found converts to the faith. No synagogues, as far as we know, became Christian churches.

Where, then, did new believers go? They gathered in the houses of other believers, in “house churches”, usually bigger houses belonging to merchants. The owners and their families lived in these houses, but they also conducted their business in part of the house. Their servants and slaves would live and work there too.

In his Letter to the Romans Paul sends his greeting to Prisca and Aquila and the “church in their house.” They were husband and wife, a couple of merchants who ran a leather business in Corinth. Paul lived with them for almost two years; he worked and taught in their house. After that, he lived in their house in Ephesus and founded the church in that city. He calls them “ my co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life. I am grateful to them but also all the churches of the gentiles.”

In Rome there were no churches as we know them till the 4th century, but historians count 25 house churches where  Christians met in the early centuries in that city.

Our church structure developed since then, we can see  a development in our first reading today. Paul is appointing leaders in every church. But there’s something important this early time can teach us. At the end of his Letter to the Romans, after expounding on some of his most profound teachings, Paul remembers a number of people in Rome he wants to greet. Prisca and Aquila and all the church in their house are the first; they must have moved back to Rome.  Then there are  a number of other names that seem to come spontaneously to his mind. They’re the names of ordinary Christians, not just the owners of the houses where Christians meet and their families, but the servants, the slaves, the ordinary people whom Paul lived with and worked with and prayed with side by side.

Unfortunately, this section of his letter is never read in church. It should be; it breathes with affection and appreciation and love for all the people who are the body of Christ. Listen to it.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus,
who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I am grateful but also all the churches of the Gentiles; greet also the church at their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the firstfruits in Asia for Christ.
Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ before me.
Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.
Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys.
Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus.
Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus.
Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them.
Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the holy ones who are with them.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. ( Romans 3,3-16)

Paul doesn’t want to leave anybody out. You can hear his love for them all. That’s the love Jesus had for his disciples. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” That’s the love that should be in our church, no matter what its structure is.

The Body of Christ

body of Christ
“We, though many, are one Body in Christ
and individually parts of one another.” {Romans 12,5-16}

St. Paul often uses the term “Body of Christ” to describe the union of Jesus with his followers. Those who follow Jesus are never isolated, self-sufficient individuals, sent off on their own. They’re united with him and with one another, and the gifts each has are to be shared with all.

Paul offers a lists of these gifts in the Letter to the Romans, read today at Mass:

“if prophecy, in proportion to the faith;
if ministry, in ministering;
if one is a teacher, in teaching;
if one exhorts, in exhortation;
if one contributes, in generosity;
if one is over others, with diligence;
if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

We may see one or other of these gifts in ourselves, but we also need to see them in others too. The danger in our individualistic age is to not recognize our dependence on others and look at someone and think: “I don’t need you,” or “I’m more important than you.” Being in the “Body of Christ” means we need each other.

Peter’s Mother-in-Law

The gospels tell the good news of Jesus Christ– what he did and said. They don’t tell it all.

We’d like to know more about him, of course, but how about some others the gospels mention in passing?

Like Peter’s mother-in-law, for example, whom Mark’s gospel recalls. After leaving the synagogue at Capernaum where he expelled an unclean spirit from a man, Jesus entered the house of Peter and Andrew where Peter’s mother-in-law has a fever. Not quite as bad as being possessed by an unclean spirit, we may think,  but most of us know a bout with the flu can take  a lot out of you too.

Jesus took her by the hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she waited on them.
That final phrase “and she waited on them” – says a lot.

She was one of those who cooked their meals, washed and mended their clothes, fussed over them when they came home, wanted to know what happened that day, tried to protect them when too many people were knocking on the door to see them. Cook, Cleaner, Advisor, Gatekeeper, Supporter, and much more.

We all know what it means when someone like her waits on us.

Peter’s mother-in-law not only received the blessing of Jesus but kept it alive in what she did. She welcomed Jesus in the way she alone could. Without what she did, do you think he and his disciples could have carried on?

The church exists on many levels. Paul used the analogy of a body. We tend to think it’s just a few that bring the gospel to the world, but it’s never been the work of a few. Many, like Peter’s mother-in-law, have a part in it too.

The church is not made up of “Lone Rangers.” The final chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans has a litany of people in the Roman church whom the apostle greets as friends and co-workers. Most of them we know nothing about. Some of them, like Peter’s mother-in-law, probably “waited on him.”