Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pilgrimige in a Pilgrimage

It was up very early this morning - 5:00am. So for all of you who are thinking I'm on vacation, here's my excuse to say this is not a vacation. We began the first of 40 stational churches this morning. 40 days of Lent; every morning, Mass at a different church. This Lent will offer me the opportunity to take a pilgrimage through most of these churches while I am on the "pilgrimage" of this sabbatical.

Today - Ash Wednesday - Mass this morning was at Santa Sabina. The current church was built during the potificate of Celestine I (422-432). It is at the site of the home of Sabina, a wealthy Roman widow, who was converted to the faith by her slave, Seraphia. It is very likely that her home was a house church in the early 2nd Century. In 126, they were put to death for their faith. Today, the church and adjacent monastery is staffed by the Dominican Fathers. I forgot my camera as I rushed out this morning to meet the bus, and needed to grab a quick coffee before going out the door. I will return to this church at some point to provide some pictures.

We are back from the Mass and I have about 40 minutes before our 3rd and final day of classes on St. Paul with Fr. Scott Brodeur, SJ. I thought I would write briefly about some of the points in his lectures.

We are studying the Letter to Philemon. One chapter long; the last letter in the New Testament written by Paul. It is very short - 25 verses long. It is a great work to study because even though it is so short, it still has the construction of Paul's much longer letters. It also shows a side of Paul that is different from all the other letters. For example, Romans shows us the cool, intellectual theologian Paul; Galatians shows us the angry, impassioned Paul; Philemon shows us Paul as friend and pastor. The chronology of Paul's life as believed by most Biblical scholars is as follows:

     Birth: 5 - 10AD
     Becomes a Christian: 36-37AD
     Martyrdom under Nero: 64-67AD

Of the dates we can be certain is that Paul is brought for a hearing before Gallia in Corinth in early 51AD. Gallia refuses to hear the case, however. From this date, moving back and forward in time, scholars can begin to make calculations of the time line in Paul's life, attempting to date his whereabouts, and the dating the writing of the letters.

There is currently a major debate about whether we can call Paul's acceptance of Christianity a "conversion". Paul himself never uses the word conversion. Contemporary scholars are using terms like:
  • transformation: It is an ongoing change that Paul experiences as he witnesses the martyrdom of the early church.
  • re-configuration: Paul's theology changes as he gradually comes to realize that Jesus of Nazareth is truly the fulfillment of the ancient convenant between God and his people.
  • vocation-revelation: God had chosen Paul from the very beginning to be the apostle to the gentiles. And so it took time for Paul, like all others growing in vocation, to discern and hear the revelation God, calling him to apostleship.
Some criticisms of these alternative terms are that they are for political correctness. Because of the Jewish-Christian ecumenical dialogue, there is a caution not to say that Paul ever denies his training in the Pharisaic school. Some also say conversion implies moving away from sin to new life in Christ - Paul was not in sin because he was scupulously following the law in which he grew up.

Fr. Brodeur makes the case to maintain the idea of "conversion". In its purest sense, conversion is a change of the heart. Paul certainly does have a change of heart as he once actively persecutes the church, now he proclaims it as God's truth. He also explains that in our charitable dialogue with our Jewish brethren, we can not make the statement that they, or any other human being is without sin simply because they are following the proscriptions of their religion. To acknowledge that all people are sinners is not a lack of charity or discrimination, but stating a reality that no one can deny. Paul, the Jew, was a sinner like every other human being. Therefore it should be intellectually and spiritually acceptable to acknowledge this.

Paul embraces the missionary character of Christianity. Judaism has no concept of mission. One is a Jew because one is born a Jew. It is a religion and nationality at same time.

Three Worlds of Paul:
  • He is a Jew by birth and by religion.
  • He expresses himself in the language and customs of Hellenism. Greek language, customs, religious ideas, and philosophy have become predominant since about 300BC. (Remember the gruesome readings the two weeks before Advent when we hear in the book of Macabees of the Jewish martyrs who remained faithful to their Judaism rather than convert to the religion of the "hellenizers"? These are events that take placewhile the Greeks have conquered Palestine and before the Romans come to conquer it.)
  • He is a Roman citizen. (That is why Paul is beheaded and not crucified. Crucifixion is reserved for slaves and non-citizens.) 
Paul's primary language is Greek.
Primary language of the Empire was Greek. Just as English is becoming the primary language of the world - most business in the world is conducted in English, so Greek had become the primary business and intellectual language of the world in the 1st Century AD. Even in Jerusalem under the Romans, the public language was Greek, even in Rome, the public language was becoming Greek. In Rome, the domestic language was Latin; in Jerusalem and Palestine, the domestic language was Hebrew. The early Christian liturgy was Greek. The Christian writings of the 1st century were Greek. Paul can bring the gospel to the nations because he spoke Greek.

Paul's command of the Greek language was so complete, he even invents new words in Greek that are found in his writings and not found anywhere up to that time.

Paul is also master of rhetoric - the technique of philosophical argment at the time.

Letter to Philemon

Liturgical use: 
Sunday - 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C. We read only verses 9-10,12-17.
Weekday - Thursday, 32nd week of Ordinary Time, even year. Verses 7 - 20.
It is not the highlight of the church's liturgy in the year.

It is a letter where we meet the charitable, pastoral Paul. It's not the cool intellectual and philosophical Paul. Philemon is a personal letter written to Philemon, Paul's peer, Apphia, (assumption she is Philemon's wife.) Archippus, fellow worker or soldier for the gospel (someone very significant in the community) and to the "church that meets at your home". (More evidence that the early Christians were hosted by wealthy individuals in their homes.) They had to be wealthy to have homes large enough to host the local church.

Place and date of writing? Information we know.
Philemon is in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey)
Paul says he an old man. (40 was old in a time when the life expectancy was 45.)
Paul is imprisoned. (Paul was imprisoned at least three times: Caesarea Maritima, before 53AD; Ephesus, 54-56AD; Rome, 61-63AD.)
Many scholars lean towards Ephesus since it was closest to where Philemon lived.

Literary Criticism:
The idea returns that "what is said cannot be separated from how it is said".
Why is this seemingly insignificant letter kept? It is short, it is very personal.
It could be that it was recognized as the masterpiece that it really is. It is also dealing with extremely important themes, Freedom: political, social, religious, spiritual. Slavery vs. freemen.
The entire letter is about a slave and is a conversation between two high-born citizens.

Content: Who is this Onesimus? Was he in trouble? Was he a runaway slave? Why does he have to be returned to Philemon? Why is Paul pleading his case for personal freedom?

Use of ancient rhetoric:
Paul appeals to human feelings and reason.
There is intimacy; "my beloved son," Paul speaks of his personal joy, the personal suffering as he is chained, he uses "ethos" (lighter feelings) and "pathos" (suffering, embarassment, shame),"
The letter has a perfect balance between feeling and reason.

Personal freedom vs. Christian freedom:
There is an important play on words in Philemon.
The name Onesimus means "useful" or "the useful one".

Paul says Onesimus "...who was once useless to you but is now useful to you and me." Only the prefix of the word changes to turn the word into an opposite.
Paul also challenges Philemon to receive him "no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a brother,.."
Is Paul asking Philemon to give Onesimus his freedom?
Because of kindness that Onesimus gave to Paul? Or because Onesimus is now baptized and has been raised in dignity beyond slavery?
What risk is there in Philemon giving Onesimus his freedom? Would he now have to free all his slaves because he frees one? What is his other slaves decide to become Christian so that they can be freed too?
And what of this charge? Is Paul saying that he will pay for the freedom of Onesimus? How will that affect all the other slaves Philemon may have in his charge? How will that affect Philemon's relationship with all the other heads of households in the greater community?

Another play on words that Paul uses is the image of being in chains, or imprisoned for the gospel. The root of the Greek word for chains can be pronounced two ways. One pronunciation refers to chains; the other pronunciation refers the Annointed One or the Christ. So in the Greek, depending on how the word is pronounced, Paul can be saying he is in "chains", or he is in "Christ". Did Paul do this deliberately because he knew that this letter would be read in the assembly gathered for Eucharist at Philemon's house?

We never know how Philemon treats Onesimus from that time on. But in Ephesus, a little time later, there are records of a Bishop who is called Onesimus. Is he the same one who is the subject of the Letter to Philemon? We don't know.

Fr. Brodeur spoke for 4 hours on this subject and kept us spellbound. So for sure, you all got the "reader's digest" version. He has a two-volume book being published sometime in the future. He is still working on volume 2. I guess that could be a great source for a Bible study.
More to come, I'm sure.

On to other more mundane things today.
It is another beautiful day in Rome. The mountains in the east are not quite as visible as they were yesterday when I took the video; a bit of haze today. Before going to pranzo, I started laundry. All the ironing is now done and waiting for the dryer to finish the socks and stuff. I'm at my desk in my room with the windows are wide open. It is a bit chilly still - about 60 degrees. But the air feels good. I can hear the traffic, especially the hundreds of little vespas and scooters, and an occasional ambulance going up the Gianicolo Hill to the Ospedale Jesu Bambino - The Infant Jesus Hospital - next door to the seminary. But there are also lots of birds singing in the trees just outside my window. A few bird calls I don't recognize. So its a peaceful Ash Wednesday afternoon. That has not happened in 28 years. I am working on the blog and shortly I will need to do my homework for the Italian course tonight.

I will have time for a bit of a siesta - 5am wakeup call today (and every day that I plan on doing the station churches.) So a bit of "reposo" in the afternoons is in order.

Also, remember Emmanuel from La Sainte Baume? I received a letter from him yesterday - a pleasant surprise. So I need to shift gears, put on the French hat and answer his letter. He does not use computers or anything electronic.

The Italian course is from 6:30 to 8:30 tonight. That will be followed by a light supper with Fr. Joe Popiglia and his relatives who are in town for a week.

Tomorrow's stational Church is St. Giorgio.

I think thats it for today.