Monday of Week XXVIII

“Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God...” (Romans 1:1.)

Origen of Alexandria (part 2 of Pope Benedict’s reflections on Origen) comments on this verse from the First Reading proclaimed at Mass today:

“But why does Paul call himself a slave, when elsewhere he says: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of sonship, by which we cry Abba! Father!” We may understand this as an expression of humility and that would not be wrong. Nor is the reality of Paul’s freedom compromised by this in any way. As he himself says: “Though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all.” For he serves Christ not in the spirit of slavery but in the spirit of adoption, for Christ’s service is more noble than any freedom.

“Called” is the name given to everyone who believes in Christ and is therefore a general term, although it is applied to each one according to what God has foreseen and chosen in him. He may be called to be an apostle or a prophet or a teacher; as free from a wife or as bound in marriage, and this is determined by the diversity of grace given to everyone, as it is written: “Many are called but few are chosen.” In Paul’s case, he was not called to be an apostle in the general sense, but he was also chosen according to the foreknowledge of God to be “set apart for the gospel of God,” as he says elsewhere: “God set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace.” Heretics wrongly claim that he was set apart from his mother’s womb on account of the goodness of his nature, just as from the opposite side of the fence we read in the Psalms of those “sinners who were separated from the womb” because of their evil nature.

But we say that Paul was chosen neither by accident nor because of some natural difference, but he himself attributed the causes of his election to him who knows everything before it happens. For God foresaw that Paul would labor more abundantly than anyone else in the gospel and for that reason Jesus set him apart in his mother’s womb for the gospel. Had he been chosen by fate, as the heretics maintain, or by some inherently better nature, he would not have been afraid of being condemned if he failed to preach the gospel. God’s foreknowledge, by which those who will labor and succeed are known, comes first, and his predestination follows afterwards, so that foreknowledge cannot be regarded as the cause of predestination. With men, merits are weighed according to past actions, but with God they are weighed according to future behavior, and anyone who thinks that God cannot see our future just as easily as he can see our past is an unbeliever.” (Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans)

May your grace, O Lord, we pray,
at all times
go before us and follow after
and make us always determined
to carry out good works.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen