A short reflection give to our WCSS group during our study of the Letter to the Ephesians
This is the feast day of St. Francis de Sales. Here are some words attributed to him:
Be at Peace.
Do not look forward in fear to the changes of life;
rather look to them with full hope as they arise.
God, whose very own you are,
will deliver you from out of them…
Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;
the same everlasting Father who cares for you today
will take care of you then and everyday.
He will either shield you from suffering,
or will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace,
and put aside all anxious thoughts and imagination.
St. Francis de Sales 1567-1622
When was the last time you received an unexpected letter? You walk to the mailbox on a sunny day, and there among the bills and unwanted credit card applications is a letter from someone you know. I received such a letter in 1992 from my mother. Mom’s home was just a few miles away; we talked almost daily on the phone and even went shopping together every week. I was so surprised that I opened the letter even before I had walked indoors. After reading mom’s letter, I tucked it safely away into my Missal, and forgot about it, until mom died in 2008.
“December 18, 1992
As I was doing my chores around the house today, I thought I should sit down and write about some of the things that have made my life so happy, one of the thoughts was about you…..”
There are many reasons for writing a letter. My mom wrote to me out of a need to share the memories of her life before those memories were lost. Some people write to share ideas. Some write a letter, because in the writing, they hope to solve a problem. St. Paul wrote to instruct, strengthen and nourish the faith of the communities he had evangelized.
Often Paul dictated his letters to a friend or companion, who did the writing for him, but now and again, he would write in his own hand, just as my mother did to me. Unlike text messages with their abbreviated words and symbols, letters are written on paper or parchment and can be read and savored over and over again. We can examine the handwriting as we read, and discover something about the writer. Even touching those little marks of ink, as I do with my mom’s letter, brings the sweet memory of that person back to us.
When we read and study Paul’s letters, we realize how densely packed with information they are. He is instructing fellow Christians from far away and must be sure that the readers understand the true meaning of his words. It is always easier, I have found, to speak with another face to face, because I can see at once if the listener is understanding my words, and if not, I can adjust what I am saying. Paul could not see the readers of his letters, so he had to be precise and careful in what he wrote.
Paul’s letters draw us in with his joyous praise of God, with the thankfulness he proclaims for all who are faithful and with the peace that he experiences in his relationship to Christ. To understand Paul’s complicated sentences, it is sometimes necessary to take them apart, phrase by phrase and line by line, or we will miss Paul’s true meaning. It is often tempting to just skim over the difficult lines, but if we do, we miss so much.
Paul had a great intellect and he was also a great teacher. He quoted often from the Hebrew Scriptures using God’s ancient words to the Jews to prove the truth of his faith in Jesus. Paul had wrestled with ideas throughout his life – those he had grown up with, those he had encountered in the Gentile world, and especially with the mind exploding insights that had come to him through his first-hand experience of Jesus. Just as each of us have come to understand more about our faith over time, so it was with Paul. We see that progression of Paul’s thoughts in the letters we have studied so far.
St. Paul traveled to Ephesus, one of the great cities of Asia Minor, toward the end of his second apostolic journey, around the year 52 AD. In St. Paul’s day, Ephesus had a population between a quarter to a half million people and was one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world.
Paul spent almost three years in this important seaport, where he preached and founded the church to which this letter is addressed.
The letter to the Ephesians was written from Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment there, sometime during the years 61 – 63AD. While languishing in a Roman prison, Paul addressed this letter to the Christians of Ephesus to refresh and strengthen the community’s faith. Paul may have considered himself the pastor of the Ephesian church, and though far away and in prison, his letter reflects the words of a shepherd who cares deeply about his flock.
Some scholars believe that this letter was a “circular letter”, or encyclical, addressed to all the churches where Paul had preached, because there are no personal references in the letter. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians does not have the usual opening greeting and sign-off that are characteristic of his letters. Some of the early Fathers of the Church, such as St. Ireneous, Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian, believe that the letter was intended for the Ephesians. More than modern scholars who even question the letters authorship, these Fathers of the Church were in a position to know the truth.
In the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul explores the great mystery of Redemption and the Church. Paul thought of the Church as more than an organization. It is truly the mystical body of Christ, and all Christians, including you and me, are part of His Body.
The Faith which we receive from God tells us that we are created in God’s own image. God gave man a free will, but because of the temptations of Satan and the false pride of our original parents, an impenetrable wall was put in place between God and humanity. Our souls were cut off from their life’s blood, which is God’s sanctifying grace. We would die without our own blood, which provides our bodies with nutrients and oxygen to keep it alive and healthy. Our souls cannot live and thrive without God’s grace.
Because of His infinite love for us, God sent His only Son to redeem us with His Life, Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Though we had turned away in disobedience from God, He formed a plan to save us. God could have “wiped the slate clean” and started over again with a new creation, but He didn’t. By the death and resurrection of Jesus, the gates of Heaven were open once more to those of us who would obey God and believe in His Son.
Paul teaches us that everyone is predestined from before the creation of the world to become sons and daughters of God. Both Jews and Gentiles are called — without distinction — to be one in Jesus, to make up one body, the new people of God — the Church. This union of all in Christ is the express will of the Father. Our calling back to God is merited through the Redemption wrought by His Son and brought to fulfillment in people’s souls through the action of the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us that we cannot boast that our redemption is due to our own efforts, for God has done all the work.
If we truly believe what Paul has taught us – that we are all predestined for salvation — then we, who have been given the Faith by the Holy Spirit, are bound by the love of God to pass that Faith along to others. We are responsible for evangelizing all those who do not know and love the Lord.
You and I have an effect on the lives of others, even though we may never be aware of it. By our words and actions, we tell others who we are and what we believe. There is no way we can avoid the task of evangelizing. We are either living proof of how Christians – and more precisely Catholics – practice what we preach – or we are living proof that our Faith is just one of convenience and habit – a Faith that is left in church on Sunday and not really lived.
St. Paul sums up these two chapters by telling us that we, who were called by God, are not people who are strangers to one another, nor are we travelers who stay just a short while before moving on, but by God’s design, we are His friends and members of His family. So we are all related to one another by our love for God our Father.
God is creating a living, breathing Temple by joining all of us together. This magnificent structure was designed and planned by God long before the earth existed. It is being crafted by God’s own Hands with care and love. The Apostles and the Prophets of the Old Testament are the foundation stones on which this new Temple rests. The Body and Blood of Jesus nourishes and strengthens each one of us, who are the living stones which form the structure. Jesus is the Crown Jewel of this building and the One whose Life holds its all together. One wonderful day this glorious Temple of God will be revealed to all, and God will dwell eternally within it.
Finally – a little prayer to end our reflection:
“May our lives each day be a living work of praise
to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen