In her wisdom, Holy Mother Church presents us this week in the daily lectionary for our meditation Saint Paul’s masterful Letter to the Romans.
In his opening chapter, Saint Paul boldly states that he is not ashamed of the Gospel. We take that for granted, but, let us never underestimate the courage it took for him to preach of Jesus as Lord in the midst of a time, and an Empire, that paid service to a variety of theistic practices, philosophies, and ideals, while at the same time upholding (officially) the required allegiance to the Roman gods of whom the Emperor was one.
In the same chapter, Saint Paul also begins to lay out his argument that the moral law is knowable and accessible to every person, in every place, because the Creator inscribed these truths on the human heart. And, as Saint Paul sees it, that means that anyone who deviates from the truth is already condemned because they have turned away from what they know to be true in their hearts. They knew God, but they ignored him.
Minds grow dark and wisdom is set to the side, and as a result many people engage in behavior that enslaves them to their appetites and passions. They worship other gods that are empty of real power to save. And so God the most high gives them the freedom to destroy themselves if that is what they truly desire.
To be sure Saint Paul never lived through Woodstock, nor did he experience internet pornography. But, make no mistake that the pagan Rome that he experienced was no stranger to deviant behaviors, or to lifestyles of over indulgence, or to strong anti-Christian pressures. It was not easy for him to write and preach as he did when at times the social and cultural framework of his surroundings were clearly at odds with him.
But he believed in the truth of the Gospel, and found a strength in it that was far greater than anything he could generate of his own power.
So, too, it must be for us today. Another priest recently said to me that Romans, Chapter One, could just as easily have been written about our current society. Indeed our judgement has become clouded, our appetites are running out of control, and as a result God will allow things to fall into ruin.
Saint Paul was martyred. And he was martyred because he was not ashamed of the Gospel, in the midst of a whole culture that should have known better, but chose not to. The modern-day language of tolerance, diversity, inclusion, and I dare say even of “mercy,” is a darkening of the mind in the face of the truth of our human nature that binds all of us, even if we choose to ignore it.
Where is ancient Rome today? Fallen. Christianity won that one. But its mistaken practices of human degradation continue to resurface. And therefore we are wise, especially in this day and age, to re-read Romans Chapter One. And as we meditate upon it, let us also remember where we are: we are living in pagan Rome all over again. We are living therefore in the new age of the martyrs.
Which means it is a great time to be a Christian; to not be ashamed of the Gospel.
Brothers and sisters:
I am not ashamed of the Gospel.
It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:
for Jew first, and then Greek.
For in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith;
as it is written, “The one who is righteous by faith will live.”
The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven
against every impiety and wickedness
of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness.
For what can be known about God is evident to them,
because God made it evident to them.
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.
As a result, they have no excuse;
for although they knew God
they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks.
Instead, they became vain in their reasoning,
and their senseless minds were darkened.
While claiming to be wise, they became fools
and exchanged the glory of the immortal God
for the likeness of an image of mortal man
or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes.
Therefore, God handed them over to impurity
through the lusts of their hearts
for the mutual degradation of their bodies.
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie
and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the creator,
who is blessed forever. Amen.
Saint Paul, Letter to the Romans, chapter 1, verses 16-25.