Tag Archives: St Paul

Trip Advisor * * * * * The City Of Rome

THE Italian Ice Cream shop - Della Palma - Gelato di Roma

THE Italian Ice Cream shop – Della Palma – Gelato di Roma

This final reflection on my visit to Rome provides an overall review of the trip, highlighting some of my thoughts of which I have already written about in the rest of the series and adding new insights

Maybe it’s a wee bit nostalgic to imagine Audrey Hepburn discovering the delights of Rome but nevertheless this Roman Holiday was more of a pilgrimage to discover the origins of the Christian faith in the earthly bound eternal city and which has left a lasting impression of constancy and commitment.

Arriving in the early hours of Tuesday morning, it was left to my imagination what the view might be from the window of my room, as we were welcomed to the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas; but nothing prepared me for the sheer beauty and sense of antiquity as I looked out to see the Coliseum at the foot of the garden and in the distance the Palatine Hill and other landmarks I’d only read about and yet felt I already knew. Yet, it was watching a small flock of sparrows and wondering if their antecedents had once pecked a living among the Roman temples and busy forums that it really struck home just how incredible this city is in terms of all of our histories.

The View from the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas

The View from the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas

Our week was packed with visits to these monuments to a great civilisation, and the grandiose basilicas and mausoleums provided opportunities to understand the importance and power that the Roman Empire wielded across the known world at its height.

Arch of Titus

Arch of Titus

Still, in amongst all of these shows of dominance, the first sparks of the Christian revolution that was to spring into being and eventually triumph, began to reveal themselves. Whether strolling along cobbled streets and entering houses, where the first-century Christians began to meet in secret…

Original Roman Streets at San Gregorio Magno al Celio

Some of the original Roman streets at San Gregorio Magno al Celio

…or circumnavigating the walls of the Coliseum and peering down into the arena space, imagining how it must have felt to be waiting to be brought out to a public spectacle and certain death or hearing about St Peter’s cruel death in the Circus of Nero and seeing where his remains were buried, originally outside the Vatican necropolis. [Supersize Faith] All of these things brought to life those dry, dusty textbooks that we study.

Roman Christianity -The Cross in the Colosseum

Roman Christianity -The Cross in the Coliseum

Perhaps though the most poignant moment came as we gathered below ground and stood together in the building where they believe that St Paul was held whilst he was under house arrest and listened to a reading from his second letter to Timothy, all the while feeling very close to the zealous ‘apostle’ [Within and Without]

From the past to the present, we also had the opportunity to visit and hear about the work of the Comunità di Sant’Egidio [An Example of Cheerful Giving], a group of lay Christians who sacrificially devote some of their spare time to working with many disadvantaged groups within the city. Their ‘soup’ kitchen provides meals for up to a 1000 people each day and care is taken to treat everyone with respect as well as forming ‘familial’ relationships.

The community is also proactive, and its project in setting up and running a restaurant staffed by a unique mix of ‘amico and amica’ – some of whom have learning disabilities – is a great success which is drawing comments from neighbouring establishments who are now beginning to be more inclusive in their own choice of staffing – and the food was delicious too!

Pause for Thought

Pause for Thought

Obviously it wasn’t all about learning – we had plenty of fun too! From surviving the inimitable style of the Rome taxi drivers (would-be extras from ‘The Italian Job’) to browsing along the Via dei Cestari for ecclesiastical ‘tat’ (would that be cardinal red socks or papal purple?).

So much choice!

So much choice!

As well as evenings walking through the busy piazzas soaking up the atmosphere and nightlife. Even the papal audience, which meant several hours sitting under the glaring sun was both interesting (can there be such a thing as a papal groupie?) and at the same time inspirational.

The Pilgrims Gather

The Pilgrims Gather

All in all an incredible week with so much more that I could still tell you about. New sights, new friendships, new understandings. Ciao!

A papal audience with Pope Francis

A papal audience with Pope Francis

 

 

Within and Without

St Paul Outside of the Walls

The interior of St Paul Without the Walls, Rome

The third in a series of reflections following a visit to Rome to discover its links with the early Christian church and the church as it is today

I suppose I have a kind of ‘love-hate’ relationship with St Paul… actually hate would be much too strong a word. In my Norfolk ancestor’s parlance, he ‘crazes’ me or even more accurately, he agitates me. Which is actually no bad thing, as it leads me to have to really think about what the reasons were behind what he said and did.

Peter may be predominately remembered within the very centre of the Vatican City State, but it is without the walls of Rome that Paul has his resting place. I wrote in my first reflection about the grandiosity of St Peter’s Basilica, and approaching the Basilica of St Paul Without the Walls after a short train journey, did nothing to dispel my sense that here was yet another ‘cathedral on steroids’, as one member of our group put it.

St Paul Outside of the Walls Exterior

Even so, the majestic colonnaded entrance, over which glowed the breathtakingly beautiful facade, seemed like a peaceful place to sit in that in-between space; with the world rushing by outside and a promise of something extra special to come on the inside. Even the arrival of a couple of noisy excited school groups couldn’t quite  break into the moment; but it was time to move on.

St Paul's martyrdom on the Papal door at St Paul without the Walls

St Paul’s martyrdom on the Papal door at St Paul without the Walls

Entering by the newest papal door, of which there are three, we were reminded that Paul is said to have been martyred by having his head struck off – and this was rather graphically portrayed in one of the door panel. Knelt before a Roman executioner; his hands in chains; the person who through his fragmentary unilateral correspondence has possibly done more to shape our understanding of the Early Church was swiftly silenced – although one could imagine that he was probably still evangelising even as the blade swished through the air.

One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent – Acts 18:9

The interior of the church, as the panoramic view above suggests, seemed vast and uncrowded, and yet still conveyed an air of intimacy – although there was some undignified jostling in front of his tomb, where those who knelt in prayer suddenly became aware of cameras by the side of their heads as other desperately tried to ensure they had ‘captured’ the exact record of where his bones lay.

Commercialism was also alive and well, in that for €1 you could light up the apse for a short period of time – enough for all to take advantage of another’s generosity, as evidenced by the rush as the light flicked on to stand as central as you could to it and the flashes and clicks of numerous cameras!

The illuminated painting of the Apse, St Paul Without the Walls

The illuminated painting of the Apse, St Paul Without the Walls

For all its beauty though, it was another place that has become associated with St Paul that had a much more profound effect on me and helped me to reconcile some of my thoughts about Paul’s discipleship.

A simple, now below street level house in the centre of Rome, is said to be the place where Paul was held, in chains, under house arrest. Standing in that bare cell of a room, and listening to Paul speak through the words of what was probably his last recorded letter before his death, the presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable.

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained – 2 Timothy 2:8-9

'The Word of God is not chained'

‘The Word of God is not chained’

Here was a man who at every point following his dramatic conversion, tried to emulate to the nth degree the life of Jesus; a man who held stong views on how the Gospel was to be interpreted; a man, who to our 21st century eyes may appear at times misogynistic, fanatical and arrogant; a man who was not afraid to play the Roman citizen trump card from time to time, and yet through his sheer determination, unwavering belief and absolute trust in the Truth, demonstrated powerfully what it means to live and die for Christ.

I suspect that I will continue to wrestle with my views on St Paul, but meeting him in the places where he dared to follow God’s will for his life can only lead to a greater understanding of his place in God’s mission

For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me – 1 Corinthians 15:9-10

The life of St Paul depicted in carved wood panels, Vatican Museum, Rome

The life of St Paul depicted in carved wood panels, Vatican Museum, Rome

The Body of Christ

We are the body of Christ

We are the body of Christ

The New Testament module I have just completed was interesting in many ways. Its main focus was on several of the Pauline letters, including the epistles to the Galatians, Romans and Corinthians. New insights were gained into the background, setting and context of these letters as well as the character of Paul himself. This was particularly challenging as my natural tendency is to regard Paul with a small measure of annoyance and a gritting of teeth.

Don’t get me wrong, I have learned to love and admire St Paul; for his sheer hard work and determination in setting up the early churches, his zealousness for spreading the message of Christ and his genuineness in his beliefs. It’s just that sometimes I wonder, ‘Is that really what you meant Paul?’

One passage though, in which he explained the metaphor of ‘the body of Christ’ brooks no argument from me and we were asked to prepare a sermon on it as part of the course. Here then is a copy of that sermon, intended with my own church congregation in mind, but here delivered hopefully to an equally receptive, varied and open online congregation.

The passage it relates to is 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

As the writing on the barn wall stated, “All animals are equal…” This declaration by the animals in George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm laid down a rule which many democratic societies have upheld as a basic principle. However, if we are all equal doesn’t that mean that we all have to be the same? Not physically the same but doing the same thing, thinking the same thoughts, making everything neat and uniform, because in this way we will surely achieve unity. Won’t we? And isn’t uniformity the thing that we as a church strive for in our liturgy, church management and doctrine?

Well equality is not the same as uniformity and uniformity is actually not really helpful to true unity. As the animals later discovered when they added a codicil to the rule – “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” There is something more that needs to happen and Paul points to it in one of his clearest and least controversial statements in his first letter to the church in Corinth, when he identifies what it means to be the body of Christ

We could so easily just look at the analogy of each of the members of the church being represented as different body parts. We all have different roles to play which could equate to a particular limb or organ within a body – the choir representing the harmonious vocal chords; the sidespeople as helpful hands; ‘Jonathan’ [in my own church], who likes to disagree with every sermon, as the grumbling appendix!… Each of us creating a complete and unified metaphorical human being that is wonderfully made, but which can occasionally stumble and fall, but invariably picks itself up again.

 Still is this what Paul really means and is this the only way we can think of being one body?

For a start we are all different, and that’s great; because it would be an odd shaped body if we were all the same part. After all, like a body, we need the unique gifts offered by all of the various members. These various gifts provide diversity, a diversity that is God-given; and coming as they do from such a source they need to be used for the good of all. Paul recognises that the thing that unites us is the Holy Spirit and it is through the work of the Holy Spirit that believers become bound together into one body.

However, our diversity needs to be based on interdependency rather than independence… Just as we use different parts of our bodies to perform different tasks, we all have particular talents which make us very good at the jobs we choose to do; and sometimes we can jealously guard those jobs that we like doing, thereby preventing others from a chance of receiving equal recognition. In addition, if we perceive that these are highly skilled tasks we can begin to give them a superior status, which often leads to pride. Yet the work we perform in God’s name cannot be based on a belief of self-sufficiency – our successes are built on the grace of God and the shoulders of those that support us –this sermon would be pretty pointless if the church and its people weren’t present – and a lot has happened in the past and behind the scenes to bring everybody to this particular point in time. Just take a moment to think why and how it is you are here today?

Moreover, who are we to judge the worthiness of each role played within the church? Just as our limbs depend on muscles, and tendons; nerves and microscopic synapses to function efficiently, and would be useless without them, so we have to ensure that every role a person has is equally valued. Furthermore, we need to realise that if we are working towards a common purpose – a united body – then we have to recognise that there will be some within that ‘body’ who may be vulnerable and therefore need to be nurtured and cared for.

Often, living in a society that prizes outward signs of power and achievement, we can despise weakness and vulnerability, but Paul turns this on its head, so that as Christians we should honour those ‘less respectable members’ and instead afford them mutual respect. It could be anyone of us that fluffs their lines in the readings, or takes a long time to get up to the altar rail or forgets the milk for refreshments…If we learn to be more accepting then the church will truly function as the body of Christ

Of course there are going to be time when we do disagree with each other, but it will be how we deal with this that counts. If our disagreements are forever aired publicly, rather than quietly and with concern for the other person, then we run the risk that we lower the respect that we need to have for each other as well as the respect that others have for us. We devalue the whole

What then should the shape of the whole look like? Well, in a world that is forever dieting and primping to maintain the body beautiful, we need to put that image aside. Our body should be fluid and growing, accepting new members so that every part of the body can grow stronger. We shouldn’t pick and choose what sort of parts or people we might need more of, or reject what might be to some insignificant or worthless. We have to allow people to be what they are; love each other unconditionally and rejoice in our unity – because if we don’t then we not acting as the body of Christ; and In the words of a song by the music group Casting Crowns – “Jesus paid much too high a price for us to pick and choose who should come… and we are the body of Christ”

Amen

Lyrics from If We Are The Body – Casting Crowns

It’s crowded in worship today
As she slips in trying to fade into the faces.
The girls’ teasing laughter is carrying farther than they know
Farther than they know

A traveller is far away from home
He sheds his coat and quietly sinks into the back row.
The weight of their judgemental glances
Tells him that his chances are better out on the road

But if we are the body
Why aren’t his arms reaching?
Why aren’t his hands healing?
Why aren’t his words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t his feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way

Jesus paid much too high a price
For us to pick and choose who should come
And we are the body of Christ

Jesus is the way

© Casting Crowns 2003
https://www.castingcrowns.com/music/lyrics/if-we-are-body

Disclaimer: Any names mentioned within this sermon have been changed to protect people’s anonymity and because I would still like to worship there. They know who they might be!

It’s All Greek To Me!

It's All Greek To Me

It’s All Greek To Me

So apart from introducing the world to democracy, realising that the earth was round and working out some very difficult mathematical calculations… what have the Greeks ever done for us? Well one thing that they’ve done is give me a headache! What shame they didn’t invent analgesics (although they did give us its name from the Greek words ‘without+pain’

Languages can be fascinating – discovering that our everyday words have their origins in Latin, French or Anglo-Saxon with a smattering of Viking thrown in for good measure. The roots of words give us a hint of what they might mean in hundreds of languages

Most modern languages use the classical Latin or Roman alphabet with its 26 letters. So what happens when the letters themselves are unrecognisable? Now I’m not so naive to forget that there are a great many other languages that use scripts and hieroglyphics to enable billions of people to happily produce both beautiful and outstanding literature

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “Write in a book all the words I have spoken to you” Jeremiah 30:2

It’s possible that Jesus would have spoken and understood Aramaic and read Hebrew scripts – if not understanding a smattering of Latin and Greek. However, it is the Greek that is of interest to me as we undertake a Greek-lite course at college

First there is the basic alphabet with only 24 letters (25 if you double up on the ‘s’ sound). At first it lulls you into a sense of security as you recognise letters that seem familiar…. then you find out out that they say something different! A capital H (eta) says ‘ay’ and P (rho) becomes an R sound. Then there are the impressive squiggles that send your pen backwards and forwards in unnatural directions –

The Greek Letter xi

The Greek Letter xi

I do get the point that some words are masculine and some are feminine… and that just like French there’s no rhyme or reason as to which should be which – but then there’s also 2nd Masculine Declensions and definitive articles….and this is only in the 3rd lesson!

So why subject myself to such apparent torture? Well you have to remember that the Greek speaking world was a hotbed of philosophy and classical thinking and when St Paul chose to take his message to the Gentiles it was into this world that he made such inroads in spreading the Gospel – to the people’s of Corinth, Phillippi and Thessalonica amongst others; and Luke’s Gospel and Acts were almost certainly written with a Greek audience in mind

How wonderful then to make at least a small attempt to read some of the bible in an original language….. And the passage we are starting with – what else but John 1:1

John 1:1

John 1:1