This morning as I heard the reading from the beginning of the Letter to the Romans, I was struck by the fact that St. Paul described himself as a “slave” of Jesus Christ. I am not alone in finding the word odious because of the American experience of slavery. To be honest, when I have heard St. Paul use this word in the past, I simply dismissed it and moved on. For some reason, the word simply would not allow itself to be dismissed. I find myself thinking about it even now even though I heard the reading almost an hour ago.
Though it is a cliché to do so, I actually went to an online dictionary to read the definition of the word “slave.” Predictably, one definition identified a slave as a person who was owned by another and who was forced to work without pay. I immediately became aware of just how apt a description this is for not only Paul but for all of us.
In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes that our bodies are “members of Christ” (1 Corinthians 6:15), and that, therefore, they should not be used for immoral purposes. He gives as a reason for this assertion in verse twenty of that same passage: “For you have been purchased at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) The price Jesus paid for us is, of course, his blood shed on the cross. So we are “owned” by Christ.
The other thing that became very clear for me is that we work without pay. Although I, like many, once thought that I could earn my way into heaven by my good deeds, I am very aware at this point in my life that such a notion is flawed. God’s gift of salvation, won through the shedding of Jesus’ blood, is a free gift and cannot be earned. We are saved by our faith in Jesus, not by anything that we may or may not do. This thought led me back to the Gospel reading for yesterday in which the apostles asked “How can anyone be saved.” Jesus answered that “nothing is impossible for God.” In other words, while it is impossible for us to earn our way into heaven, God can and has granted us access to salvation if we but place our faith in Jesus.
There are those who say that this is simply too easy. The reality is that it is. It is very easy. What is not easy is persevering in our faith. Like the Israelites of old who sojourned in the desert for forty years, during which their faith was tested over and over again, we now sojourn in another kind of desert, a desert where the heat of indifference attempts to wear down the faith of those who have placed their faith in God. As our society drifts ever further away from God, we are constantly tested to maintain our faith and to continue to obey God’s commandments. We all fail; we are all sinners. However, as I have frequently written, a saint is someone who keeps on trying.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator