“Through Christ We have Received the Grace of Apostleship”
Today and over the next three Mondays we will examine Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans to consider how we can be witnesses of the hope and joy we find in the Christian life.
Pope Francis writes in Evangelii gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), “In virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples (cf. Mt 28:19). All the baptized, whatever their position in the Church or their level of instruction in the faith, are agents of evangelization” (Evangelii gaudium, 120).
Missionary discipleship captures well the spirit of the New Evangelization. If we could choose one person who embodies these two aspects of the Christian life – discipleship and mission – it would be Paul, the great missionary preacher.
As a persecutor of Christians (see Acts 8:1-3), he seemed an unlikely candidate to be the great evangelizer. But, in the famous account of Paul being thrown to the ground and hearing a voice, he encounters the Risen Christ and is transformed (see Acts 9:1-22). He became as fierce a defender of Jesus as he had been a persecutor. Today, we too can experience Paul’s preaching and teaching through his letters of instruction which are part of the New Testament.
The Letter to the Romans is considered by many to hold a pride of place among Paul’s writings. The faithful to whom he wrote were Christians who were already living in Rome, gathering in house churches. These first Christians most likely came from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds.
More importantly however is that when Paul describes the community, he notes that there are those who are strong in the faith (Romans 15:1) and those who are weak in the faith (Romans 14:1). Among other things, the community lived in a hostile situation in Rome. In this, we can see our own situation. We can imagine these new Christians having to defend their new-found faith in the face of skepticism from family and friends alike. In light of these challenges, Paul desired to bolster the young Christian community’s courage and commitment to hold fast to the faith.
Paul proclaims the truth of the Gospel. He reminds the Romans that Jesus is our source of salvation. He is the new Adam. The Lord’s resurrection contains for us the promise of eternal life. Faith in our resurrection is inseparable from faith in his resurrection. He rose not for his own sake, but as our Head, as the pattern of our rising and as the life-giving source of our new life. In another letter, Paul writes, “Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised: if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:12-14).
This is a constant theme in Pauline thought: “The one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and place us with you in his presence” (2 Corinthians 4:14). “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. . . . We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him. . . Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:4, 9, 11).
All Christian life, even now on earth, is a sharing in the resurrection; but our rising with him will be fulfilled in the resurrection on the last day.
Being alive in Jesus Christ brings a whole new experience of freedom to our lives. Next Monday, we will reflect on what we mean by finding freedom in the Christian life.
This is the first in a series on the Letter to the Romans.