Dear Parish Faithful & Friends in Christ,
Based on the circumstances of his apostolic ministry, St. Paul created and developed a pastoral theology which has hardly been rivaled in the entire history of the Church. The Apostle Paul’s epistles can never be reduced to theological treatises that reveal timeless truths unrelated to the circumstances, issues, and pastoral concerns that prompted the writing of any given epistle in the first place. A true pastor must guide, protect, teach, encourage and admonish his flock when necessary, and St. Paul was very conscious of this. In his epistles he was always responding to situations that demanded an application of the theological truths so forcefully and profoundly revealed in his writings. Thus, in addition to his divinely-appointed role as an apostle, St. Paul was also a pastor – or director of souls; and a theologian – one who discovered words “appropriate to God,” so as to reveal something meaningful concerning God and God’s dispensation toward the world. In fact, we would claim that he was “inspired” by the Holy Spirit to do this. Hence, his epistles are now an integral part of the inspired New Testament canon of sacred Scripture.
Even though doctrinal and pastoral concerns are often intertwined in his epistles, we do find a pattern that he follows by giving pastoral guidance and/or catechetical instruction following the early theological sections of his epistles. His First Epistle to the Thessalonians is a good example, for it is in chs. 4-5 that we find his exhortations after a more opening doctrinal section. This is true about the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans even though he was not responsible for establishing the local church in the imperial capital. After the theological or doctrinal section of this great epistle in ch. 1-11, the Apostle adds further chapters of pastoral direction that render that very theology accessible and applicable to “real-life” situations, or at least to the Christian life conceived in its over-all realization in the world. As a little-known text put it simply in the patristic era: “Up to this point Paul has expounded doctrine. Now he goes on to teach morals.” As an example: When the Apostle overwhelms us with a revealed truth such as this – “But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (ROM. 5:8, a verse we can describe as his version of JN. 3:16) - we can be assured that he will eventually point out to us just how profound of a meaning this truth will have in our lives as Christians. Perhaps this following passage reveals how that truth about God can be embodied in a way of life that would mark a genuine Christian who is a true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ:
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality (ROM 12:9-13).
It is fascinating just how closely these words of the Apostle reflect the teachings of Christ which he has so admirably absorbed and assumed, though not having seen or heard Christ in His earthly ministry.
Another “meditation” later in the week will continue to draw on the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, especially from ch. 12, and his creative use of a pastoral theology. I will focus initially on St. Paul’s well-known admonition: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind …” (ROM. 12:2)