Friday, March 18, 2011

The Spiritual Testament of St Paul - according to St Luke

The Evangelist St Luke at his desk
From New Testament, Constantinople,
Mid-10th century
BL Add. MS 28815, ff. 76v-77
The British Library, London

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (1541–1614)
Saint Paul
1598 - 100
Oil on canvas
69.9 x 55.9 cm
Saint Louis Art Museum, St Louis

As well as writing The Gospel bearing his name, St Luke is traditionally regarded as the author of The Acts of the Apostles.

On March 10th of this year the Pope met with the priests of Rome and gave a bravura Lectio Divina on a passage in Chapter 20 of the Acts of the Apostles.

He spoke for an hour with only a few notes.

The passage he discussed was the "pastoral testament" of Saint Paul, his moving farewell address to the Christians of Ephesus and Miletus

Aware of difficulties at Ephesus and neighbouring areas, Paul called the presbyters together at Miletus, about thirty miles from Ephesus. Miletus was an ancient Greek city on the western coast of Anatolia in Turkey

It is believed that Paul stopped by the Great Harbour Monument and sat on its steps.

In the passage from The Acts of the Apostles St Luke recounts the actual words of Paul. Some have suggested that at times Luke was a travelling companion of St Paul. Others have also commented that the passage has parallels with Luke 22: 14 -38 and 1 Thessalonians.

He also records words of Jesus not recorded elsewhere.

In the passage, St Paul reminds his audience of his dedication to the Gospel, speaks of what he is about to suffer for the Gospel, and admonishes them to guard the community against false prophets, sure to arise upon his departure.

Here is the passage in The Acts of the Apostles:

"When he met us in Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene.
15 We sailed away from there on the next day and reached a point off Chios, and a day later we reached Samos, and on the following day we arrived at Miletus. 16 Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus in order not to lose time in the province of Asia, for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if at all possible, for the day of Pentecost.

17 From Miletus he had the presbyters of the church at Ephesus summoned.

18 When they came to him, he addressed them, "You know how I lived among you the whole time from the day I first came to the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with all humility and with the tears and trials that came to me because of the plots of the Jews, 20 and I did not at all shrink from telling you what was for your benefit, or from teaching you in public or in your homes.

21 I earnestly bore witness for both Jews and Greeks to repentance before God and to faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 But now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem. What will happen to me there I do not know, 23 except that in one city after another the holy Spirit has been warning me that imprisonment and hardships await me.

24 Yet I consider life of no importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear witness to the gospel of God's grace. 25 "But now I know that none of you to whom I preached the kingdom during my travels will ever see my face again.

26 And so I solemnly declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, 27 for I did not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, 6 in which you tend the church of God that he acquired with his own blood.

29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. 30 And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them. 31 So be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day, I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to that gracious word of his that can build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated.

33 I have never wanted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. 34 You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. 35
In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

36 When he had finished speaking he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 They were all weeping loudly as they threw their arms around Paul and kissed him, 38 for they were deeply distressed that he had said that they would never see his face again. Then they escorted him to the ship"

Acts of the Apostles 20: 14 - 38

Here is part of the lectio by Pope Benedict which is in Sandro Magister

"Dear brothers, [...] we have heard the passage from the Acts of the Apostles (20:17-38) in which Saint Paul speaks to the presbyters of Ephesus, intentionally recounted by Saint Luke as the testament of the apostle, as a discourse destined not only for the presbyters of Ephesus, but for the presbyters of all time.

Saint Paul is speaking not only with those who were present in that place, he is really speaking with us. So let us try to understand a little of what he is saying to us, at this time. [...]

"I have served the Lord with all humility" (v. 19). "Humility" is a keyword of the Gospel, of the whole New Testament. [...] In the letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul reminds us that Christ, who was above all of us, was really divine in the glory of God, humbled himself, came down becoming man, accepting all the fragility of being human, going all the way to the ultimate obedience of the cross (2:5-8).

Humility does not mean false modesty – we are grateful for the gifts that the Lord has given to us – but indicates that we are aware that all we are able to do is a gift from God, it is given for the Kingdom of God. In this humility, in this not wanting to make an appearance, we work. We do not ask for praise, we do not want "to be seen," for us it is not a decisive criterion to think about what they will say about us in the newspapers or elsewhere, but what God says. This is true humility: not to appear before men, but to be under the gaze of God and work with humility for God, and so really to serve humanity and men as well.

"I have never drawn back from what could be helpful, for the sake of preaching to you and instructing you" (v. 20). Saint Paul returns to this point after a few sentences and says: "I have not drawn back from the duty of proclaiming to you all the will of God" (v. 27).

This is important: the apostle does not preach a Christianity "à la carte," according to his own tastes, he does not preach a Gospel according to his own favorite theological ideas; he does not draw back from the task of proclaiming all the will of God, even the inconvenient will, even the themes that personally are not very pleasing.

It is our mission to proclaim all the will of God, in its totality and ultimate simplicity. [...] And I think that the world of today is curious to know everything. [...] This curiosity should be ours as well: [...] truly to know all the will of God and to know how we can and should live, what is the path of our life.

So we should make known and understood – as much as we can – the content of the "Credo" of the Church, from the creation to the Lord's return, to the new world. Doctrine, the liturgy, morality, prayer – the four parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – indicate this totality of the will of God.

And it is also important not to lose ourselves in the details, not to create the idea that Christianity is an immense package of things to learn.

Ultimately it is simple: God has shown himself in Christ. Entering into this simplicity – I believe in God who showed himself in Christ and I want to see and realize his will – has content, and according to the situations, we can then enter into the details or not, but it is essential that above all the ultimate simplicity of the faith be made understood.

Believing in God as he has shown himself in Christ is also the inner richness of this faith, it gives the answers to our questions, including the answers that we do not like at first and are nonetheless the way of life, the true way. When we also enter into these things that we do not like so much, we can understand, we begin to understand that it really is the truth. And the truth is beautiful. The will of God is good, it is goodness itself.

The the apostle says: "I have preached in public and in homes, testifying to Jews and Greeks about conversion to God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ" (v. 20-21). Here there is a summary of the essential: conversion to God, faith in Jesus. But let's stay for a moment with the word "conversion," which is the central word or one of the central words of the New Testament, [...] in Greek "metànoia," change of thinking, [...] meaning a real change in our view of reality.

Since we were born in original sin, for us reality is the things that we can touch, it is money, it is my position, it is the things of every day that we see on the news: this is reality. And spiritual things appear a bit behind reality. "Metànoia," change of thinking, means inverting this impression. Not material things, not money, not the edifice, not what I can have is the essential, is reality. The reality of realities is God. This invisible reality, apparently far from us, is reality.

To learn this, and thus to invert our thinking, to judge truly how the real that must orient everything is God, this is the word of God. This is the criterion, God, the criterion of everything I do. This really is conversion: if my concept of reality has changed, if my thinking has changed.

And this must then penetrate all the individual things of my life: in the judgment of every single thing to take as criterion what God says about this. This is the essential thing, not what I get now for myself, not the advantage or disadvantage that I will obtain, but the true reality, to orient ourselves to this reality.

We must precisely – it seems to me – during Lent, which is a journey of conversion, exercise anew every year this inversion of the concept of reality, namely that God is reality, Christ is reality and the criterion of my acting and of my thinking; to exercise this new orientation of our life."