THE HOLY GOSPEL IS PROTECTION
Paul, also called Saul, born in Tarsus in Cilicia (Acts 9:30) of Jews of the tribe of Benjamin, Pharisees and Roman citizens during the first years of the Vulgar Age, was educated in Jerusalem under the famous Gamaliel (Acts 5:34), but did not have the opportunity to personally know Christ.
An ardent Pharisee, he distinguished himself for his hatred and animosity towards nascent Christianity, guarded the clothes of those who stoned Stephen and, after getting from the Prince of the Priests the broadest judiciary powers, persecuted the Christians even outside Palestine. Jesus, however, waited for him on the road to Damascus and transformed the persecutor into a zealous Apostle. It was about the year 35 A.D. and Paul was about thirty years old.
After preparing himself for about ten years of study, meditations, and revelations for the great work of conversion of the Gentiles, in the year 45 he began his missionary journeys taking as center of departure and return Antioch, metropolis of the Orient and a fulcrum of all the peoples of that time.
Four were the Apostle's journeys: dangerous journeys, often due to the difficult regions which he had to cross, but especially due to the persecutions of the Judaists who continually pursued him to hamper the work of evangelization.
It was during his journeys that St. Paul wrote his marvelous fourteen epistles; by means of them he kept in
touch with the churches, making good his personal presence through letters.HIS DOGMATIC EPISTLES
Imprisoned towards Pentecost of 58 in Jerusalem and after two years of imprisonment in Caesarea, he leaves for Rome; he was shipwrecked in Malta and finally reaches the capital of the world where he stayed seven years and was judged and absolved by Burrus and Seneca, representatives of Nero. He was freed in the year 63. In those years, he evangelized Rome, watched over the Churches of Asia and from Rome wrote the letters to the Ephesians, the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Philippians.
Regaining his liberty, he followed up his apostolic trips, went to France and Spain according to some. He returned to the Orient and again passed Colossae, Troas, Miletus, and Crete. He went to Macedonia, then to Corinth and Necapolis. He returned to Rome, it is not known how, and, arrested with St. Peter in 66, after a horrendous imprisonment, was beheaded in 67 on the via Ostiense (on 29 June, according to tradition).
St. Paul is the apostle par excellence and in particular he is the apostle to the Gentiles. He traveled the whole Roman world, for thirty years always threatened and persecuted with implacable furor, hated by the Gentiles, persecuted by the Jews, accused, calumnied, beaten, stoned, betrayed; always in the jaws of death for Christ's glory, he preached the Gospel, signing his missionary trips with blood, and gloriously ended reddening with his blood the queen of the world.
LETTER TO THE ROMANS - In truth, it is not possible to give a clear-cut classification of the Pauline letters since each one contains both a dogmatic and a moral element. The division into three groups: dogmatic, moral, and pastoral, is made according to the element that prevails in them.
Paul many times wanted to visit Rome, but was not yet able to do it. At the end of his third journey, he planned to conquer for Christ even the west, thus the occasion so desired to visit the Roman Church offered itself to him. For this he writes to the Romans, announcing that in his trip to Spain, he will stop in Rome. This was the reason behind his letter.
The letter to the Romans, however, more than a letter, is a
treatise. In it St. Paul justifies his apostolate among the Gentiles and insists on the principal points of his preaching, especially on his principal thesis greatly contested by the Judaists, but of capital importance for the future of Christianity, that is: the grace of justification is merited by Christ for all men, both Jews and Pagans, without being based on preceding merits; justification does not depend on the observance of the Mosaic law, but on faith in Christ, rendered alive by good works.
LETTER TO THE GALATIANS - This letter is addressed not to a particular Church, but to a group of Churches scattered in Galatia.
In this Roman province St. Paul brought the Gospel during his first and second missionary journey. The Galatians welcomed enthusiastically the Gospel, but then they listened to the Judaists who demanded the observance of the Mosaic law and circumcision even for the Gentile converts. Knowing the dangerous plots of his enemies, St. Paul writes to vindicate his authority and to reestablish the true doctrine against the seductive Judaists.
The letter is principally dogmatic, like that to the Romans, and defends the thesis that justification depends on faith in Christ and not on the law of Moses, the observance of which is superfluous, even dangerous.
This letter is a real portrait of St. Paul: his vivacity, his ardor, and his zeal palpitate in it: there is the power of his reasoning combined with his affection as a father.
LETTER TO THE COLOSSIANS - Epaphra, a disciple of St. Paul and Bishop of Colossae, having gone to Rome to visit the prisoner Paul, had manifested to him the new dangers that threatened the Churches of Asia, especially Collossae. The dangers come from the false Judeanizing teachers who are already the initiators of Gnosticism.1
Paul, after knowing these dangers, wrote this letter to the Colossians.
In the dogmatic part, he speaks of the benefits and of the dignity of Christ in relation to God, creation, and the Church, and confutes the false teachers, opposing to their fantasies the true Christian doctrine. He sublimely insists on Christ's divinity, on the universality of redemption, and on the necessity of Christianity for salvation; he brands the emptiness of the Jewish observances and of
the ascetic practices of the false doctors, and condemns their exaggerated cult of the Angels.
In the moral part, he talks about the duties of Christians, whether general or particular, of the different states of life.
I LETTER TO THE THESSALONIANS - St. Paul had founded in Thessalonica a flourishing Church; forced by the intrigues of the Jews to leave the city and not being able to go back there, he sent Timothy. After receiving from the disciple, who reached him in Corinth, news regarding that Church, he wrote this letter.
Aside from the prologue and the epilogue, it contains a historical part wherein St. Paul justifies his conduct towards the Thessalonians and praises them for having responded to his concern; and a dogmatic-moral part wherein he exhorts them to be virtuous, gives his answer about the lot of those who die before Christ's coming, in connection with judgment, and finally exhorts them to fulfill all their duties.
II LETTER TO THE THESSALONIANS - In the first letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul spoke of Christ's return; but the Thessalonians understood that Christ's return and the end of the world were imminent and many concluded that they no longer had to work but just to wait doing nothing.
To remedy these disorders, St. Paul writes this second letter where, speaking of Christ's coming, he says that the Anti-Christ must come first; and therefore the faithful should not think that his coming is really near; however, since the time is uncertain, they had to be prepared and constant in their faith. He censures idleness, calling to mind the law of work; he exhorts to virtue and avoidance of the disobedient.
LETTER TO THE HEBREWS - The letter to the Hebrews is addressed to the Hebrews of Palestine and particularly those in Jerusalem. St. Paul's2 immense charity could not forget his brothers in the flesh.
In the dogmatic part, the Apostle, without condemning whoever still practices the ancient customs, shows the foolishness of him who believes himself bound by the yoke of the old law, and proves the superiority of the N.T. over the O.T. from the fact that Christ, the Son of God, is the author of the N.T. and well superior to the Angels and Moses, who gave the old law. He then speaks of the priesthood of Christ and shows in every aspect its absolute superiority over the Jewish one, concluding that the O.T. was a shadow of the reality that is the N.T.
The moral part is the conclusion of the dogmatic part, and makes the necessity of faith and good works felt.
The Holy Gospel is protection
This is my comfort in affliction,
your promise that gives me life.
Yesterday we saw how the Holy Gospel is salvation for our souls. Today we shall see how it is a valid protection against the devil, against the passions of the flesh, and against the world.
I. The Holy Gospel is protection against the devil.
- Bringing with us the Holy Gospel is like bringing with us the Most Holy Eucharist, that is, Jesus Master, true and living. Just as after Holy Communion Jesus, in his body, blood, soul and divinity, is truly present in our soul, so, in His Truth, He is really with him who carries his Holy Gospel.
The Gospel is not only an image like, for example, the Crucifix, but it is something of Jesus, or, better, it is Jesus himself, since being God, and therefore very simple and indivisible, where he is present as Truth he must also be present as Goodness, omnipotence, etc.
He who carries with him the Holy Gospel is in very good company: he is with Jesus.* * *
Before the coming of Jesus, the devil's kingdom was very vast and the holy Gospel tells us how the Divine Master many times found himself before possessed persons who he freed from their very deplorable slavery. Until the coming of
Jesus Christ, Satan's kingdom was always expanding, but when the time of the good news came, it began to decline more and more.
Today, cases of possession are very rare among Christian peoples. Among the infidels, however, the missionary often enough meets persons possessed by the devil. How can one explain this fact? Very simple: the devil, prince of darkness, flees at the appearance of the light of the Gospel.
It is impossible to reconcile the devil and the Gospel, inasmuch as they are opposed to each other.
The Holy Church, having understood such truth, has established that during exorcisms, the Priest drive away the demon from the poor one possessed by the reading of four Gospel texts and the recitation of several Psalms.
The Gospel is the sworn enemy of Satan.3*
II. The Holy Gospel calms, dulls the passions of the flesh.4* - The human heart, because of original sin, became a nest of poisonous serpents. How many passions agitate the poor son of Eve!
An infinity of other vices follow the capital vices (pride, avarice, impurity, anger, gluttony, envy, laziness) and St. Augustine, on such a consideration, exclaimed: In fact, human beings are a mass of perdition.5
When passions come to a boil, try to put
the Holy Gospel in your heart and you will immediately feel a great relief, and like a mysterious medicine, it will calm your poor agitated heart.
Pope Alexander VI had given the book of the Psalms as gift to Cristopher Columbus. Christopher, as a very devoted son, became very happy, and he always carried it with him as a precious treasure. He used to read it in moments of adversity, when discouraged, and all the times that his spirit was agitated he himself affirmed that he always was greatly comforted and relieved by it, especially during the time of his imprisonment.
What a strong tranquilizer of passions is the Holy Gospel!6* The heart becomes lofty in its aspirations, strong in difficulties, serene and calm amidst darkness and struggles.
Church History tells us that numerous Christians always carried with them the Holy Gospel and many Martyrs, so Eusebius says, were found with the sacred papers hanging on their neck.
The Breviary expressly tells us that the Virgin Cecilia carried continually with her the Holy Gospel: Virgo semper in corde suo, Evangelium ferebat, And so much was the strength that the Roman Virgin drew from it that she knew how to resist with admirable strength her husband, her brother-in-law, and the Emperor himself, who, as a consequence of her tenacity, condemned her to death.
Where did the Holy Virgin draw her strength in the most painful circumstance of the passion and death of her beloved Jesus? Why did she not lose heart
and get discouraged? Because she knew well from the Holy Scriptures, which she learned to read and love since she was very young, that the Redeemer had to suffer and die, but would have risen on the third day, and that gave her strength and courage.* * *
III. The Gospel furthermore protects us from the dangers of the world. - By world we mean everything that does not come from God and does not work according to Him, but according to the spirit of hell.
A young man feels that the Divine Master is calling him to a more perfect life, and he would like to say yes, to follow the divine call, but he encounters infinite difficulties from his relatives and friends; and postpones with the risk of losing his vocation!
These are the dangers of the world. Prudence is a must so one may not be soaked with its sayings and so be damned.
We must oppose, as an antidote, the Gospel sayings to these diabolical ones, if our eternal salvation is dear to us!
The reading of the Gospel shall give light and strength against every danger and every lie. The sacrosanct words of the Gospel, as the Apostle says, are living and active and are sharper than any two-bladed sword: Vivus est enim sermo Dei et efficax, et penetrabilior omni gladio ancipiti. (Heb 4:12)
Consequences: To see to it that in every family, in the schools and among all classes of persons there be the Holy Gospel,7 since it is not only an image, but Jesus-Truth himself.
Numerous misfortunes we merit by our sins do not fall upon us because of the Gospel that we bring with us.
EXAMPLE. - Ven. Contardo Ferrini.8 - He is the exemplary model of students; the apologetics professor who in his study of law seeks to defend the Church; the saint who lived in the world, teaching on the chair of Universities.CANTICLE OF TOBIT [#]
Finding himself in Milan, in the Beccaria Lyceum where he took a course of studies brilliantly, he tried to spend usefully the time that his fellow students spent for recreation. Desirous of being able to read Holy Scripture in its original text, he expressed to the prefect of the Ambrosian Library, Mons. Ceriani, his desire to know Hebrew. The learned prelate willingly consented and offered to teach him himself the Hebrew and Syriac languages with the first elements of Sanskrit and Coptic.
Let us now listen to what his colleague and friend, Count Paolo Mapelli, says about Ferrini's reading of the Bible: ...He had a predilection for the study of the Bible which he read in the Hebrew text... He knew by heart the letters of St. Paul, which, even as a student, he recited enthusiastically since he had a felt admiration for Paul of Tarsus.
He taught successively in the Universities of Pavia, Messina, Modena and Parma, while exercising a real apostolate. He lived a holy life. The Church has initiated the cause of his Beatification by declaring him Venerable by a decree dated 8 February 1931.
LITTLE SACRIFICE. - Today amidst temptations and difficulties, I will put my hand on my heart or where I carry the Gospel passage, saying: Through the words of the Gospel, may our sins be forgiven.
Blessed be God who lives forever,
because his kingdom lasts for all ages.
For he scourges and then has mercy;
he casts down to the depths of the nether world,
and he brings up from the great abyss.
No one can escape his hand.
Praise him, you Israelites, before the Gentiles,
for though he has scattered you among them,
he has shown you his greatness even there.
He scourged you for your iniquities,
but will again have mercy on you all.
So now consider what he has done for you,
and praise him with full voice.
Bless the Lord of righteousness,
and exalt the King of the ages.
As for me, I exalt my God,
and my spirit rejoices in the King of heaven.
Let all men speak of his majesty,
and sing his praises in Jerusalem.
O Jerusalem, holy city, he scourged you
for the works of your hands,
but will again pity the children of the righteous.
Praise the Lord for his goodness,
and bless the King of the ages,
so that his tent may be rebuilt in you with joy.
May he gladden within you all who were captives;
all who were ravaged may he cherish within you
for all generations to come.
(Tb 13:2-5,7,9-12 [Tb 13:1-5,6,7-10])9READING
Jesus exhorts the carrying of the cross and to save oneself
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life?
Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.
Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.
(Mt 16:24-28; Mk 8:34-39; Lk 9:23-27)PRAYER
To be freed from sin
LORD, Father and Master of my life, permit me not to fall by them! Who will apply the lash to my thoughts, to my mind the rod of discipline,
that my failings may not be spared, nor the sins of my heart overlooked; lest my failings increase, and my sins be multiplied; lest I succumb to my foes, and my enemy rejoice over me? LORD, Father and God of my life, abandon me not into their control! A brazen look allow me not; ward off passion from my heart, let not the lustful cravings of the flesh master me, surrender me not to shameless desires.
1 This term, which comes from the Greek word gnosis (knowledge or science), refers to a group of philosophical-religious currents that spread during the II-III centuries in Rome, Alexandria of Egypt and in other places in the Mediterranean Basin. Until the discovery in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, in Upper Egypt of an entire Gnostic library, the scholars used few texts, and the sources for the study of Gnostic theories were composed of descriptions and citations contained in the confutations of Christian authors like Irenaeus of Lyonne. Gnostic testimonies were also some apocryphal Gospels like La Sofia di Gesù Cristo (The Wisdom of Jesus Christ) or the Apocrifa di Giovanni (The Apocrypha of John) supposed to contain a doctrine revealed by Jesus only to some apostles or chosen disciples and destined to a few followers.
2 In LS, the Letter to the Hebrews is considered St. Paul's. Scholars show some facts that make such an attribution problematic. In Hebrews, unlike the 13 other letters considered “Pauline,” the name of Paul never appears, also because the document lacks the usual Pauline formula of address. In Heb 13:23, there is a direct reference to the recipients from the anonymous author together with Timothy (“I must let you know that our brother Timothy has been set free. If he comes soon, I shall see you together with him.”) which could make us think of Paul. It is Paul who names Timothy as his collaborator, brother or spiritual son in Rom 16:21; 1Cor 4:17; 16:10; 2Cor 1:1,19; Phil 1:1; 2:19; Col 1:1; 1Thes 1:1; 3:2,6; 2Thes 1:1; in the two letters to Timothy and in Phlm 1. Hebrews strikes us, however, for its new and original treatment of the theme of Christ's priesthood, while the great ideas bearing Paul's thought are not present there. The drafter of Hebrews has been identified as Barnabas or Apollo, whose Alexandrian culture (Greco-Hellenist) and perfect knowledge of the Scriptures in the Greek language (the Septuagint) are known. Hence, today, it is held that this letter is not Paul's handiwork, even if in it we see an influence of his thought.
3* “Attend to the reading of the Holy Bible: when the enemy of old (the devil) sees you occupied with it, he flees from you as one usually flees from an armed enemy.” (St. Peter Damian)
[He lived in the years 988-1072 (for others: Ravenna, 1007 - Faenza, 22 February 1072). A man of severe penances and prolonged prayers, St. Peter Damian came out from the beloved solitude of his contemplation in Fonte Avellana (which would also shelter Dante Alighieri), accepting to be bishop and cardinal to better promote the purification and renewal of the Church afflicted by serious abuses. He is the author of important liturgical, theological, and moral writings].
4* “There is no temptation, no adversity, no disgrace, no calamity that does not find its relief in Holy Scripture, and to which it does not give aid through its consolation, counsel, or some other remedy.” (St. Thomas of Villanueva).
[St. Thomas Villanueva was born in Villanueva, Spain, in 1486. He graduated in philosophy and joined the Augustinian Community. Ordained priest, he became Superior for life of his community. Elected archbishop of Valencia, he sent missionaries throughout the world, evangelizing especially Peru. He helped the needy to the point of creating an orphanage in the bishop's palace, and he was engaged in youth pastoral. He defended the diocese from the Muslim threat and founded the Seminary College of the Presentation. A great preacher, he converted more by his example than by his words. For his theological depth on the Virgin Mary, he is likened to St. Bernard. He died in 1550].
5 If the Church has not defined the number of those who willingly choose hell, Augustine already spoke of the massa damnationis compared to the small number of the elect; even St. Gregory the Great and other Fathers and Doctors of the Church affirm that the damned are more numerous. Even if he many times defended free will, Augustine arrived at sustaining predestination, a position picked up and intensified by Luther, an Augustinian monk, for whom after the original sin man becomes part of a multitude of the damned and cannot do any more good and save himself; the only way to salvation is faith in the fact that God will not take into account original sin and will save the believer.
6* “The Gospel possesses a mysterious power and an undefinable efficacy that influences minds and hearts: meditating on it one experiences what is experienced when contemplating heaven. It is not a book but a sort of living being, endowed with a power that does not know obstacles.” (Napoleon I)
[Napoleon Buonaparte (or Bonaparte), born in Corsica, in Ajaccio on 15 August 1769, from parents of Tuscan origin, died at the age of 52 on 5 May 1821, an exile in the island of St. Helena, a British colony in the South Atlantic Ocean].
7 On this, read nos. 136-145 of AD wherein Don Alberione refers to the study of the Scriptures made obligatory by Pius X for clerics (no. 137) and mentions a “special persuasion that the Gospel, much less the Bible, may not be given to the people. The reading of the Gospel used to be something almost exclusive for non-Catholics, who were interpreting it according to their private understanding.” (no. 139) So Don Alberione singled out “three things” to do: “that the Gospel entered every home alongside the Catechism” (n. 140); “that the book of the Gospel be the model and inspirer of every Catholic publication” (no. 141); “that the Gospel be given a cult” (no. 142). The spread of the Gospel could have been inspired by the activity of the Pious Society of St. Jerome, active since 1902 (cf. note 9 on p. 203).
8 Contardo Ferrini (born in Milan on 4 April 1859 and died 1902 in Suna, along Lago Maggiore), was declared venerable in 1931. He would be beatified by Pius XII on 13 April 1947. A celibate layman, he was defined “a star of holiness and science.” He was a professor in various universities, as mentioned in LS, and his relics were interred, by insistence of Father Agostino Gemelli, in the crypt of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, of which Ferrini was an ideal precursor, if not for anything else, for his great desire to reconcile science and faith, culture and religion. A man of international culture (he studied even in Berlin), he was considered a model Catholic professor, noted for his “inexhaustible love for prayer.” He was an esteemed collaborator of “Rivista Internazionale di Scienze Sociali e Discipline Ausiliarie” that stimulated by the sociologist Toniolo and by Talamo, sought to unite Catholic writers and devotees of the social sciences. “What struck me most in Ferrini - wrote Toniolo - was his great humility, all the more greater as great was his doctrine, goodness, and merits.” Professor Ferrini thought of death without fear, believing in the promise of Christ: “Sweet is the sound, o Jesus, of your holy word: a little while and you will see me.”
9 The translation does not correspond, verse by verse, to the Latin text of the Vulgate borne by the original edition, and summarily indicated by the reference “Tobia capo 13.”