God, in many and various ways, continuously gives us abundant gifts. The “Year of St. Paul” is yet another wonderful gift. Some people may query: The Diocese has launched the second “Year of the Family”, is not the “Year of St. Paul” confusing? Certainly not. The Pastoral objective of the Diocese is to give us a general orientation for our activities, and the teaching of St. Paul can precisely help us to specify better the objective and give us impetus to achieve it.
An article in the Osservatore Romano by an Italian Archbishop has inspired me.? He has written to explain the text of the Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 20. St. Paul said, “You did not so learn Christ!” The Ephesians lived among the pagans and the latter culture is very different from that of the Christian.
In the previous three verses Paul said, “Now this I affirm and testify in the alord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; they are darkened in their understanding……they have become callous and have given themselves up to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of uncleanness.”
In the Letter to the Romans, chapter 1, Paul said, referring to those who did not know God, “They became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Therefore God gave them up to the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves” (Rom 1:21,24). In fact the Chosen People were not much better. In Matthew 19:8 Jesus said that Moses allowed them to divorce their wives due to their “hardness of heart”.
The documents of the Hong Kong Diocesan Synod which took place during 2000-2001, have this to say, “The traditional concepts about love and sex have become more vague, while premarital sex, cohabitation and trial marriages have become more socially acceptable. According to a survey of young people, 75% of students were not opposed to premarital sex.”
In a report by the Hong Kong Catholic Marriage Advisory Council in December 2000: The number of divorce cases has increased from 7,735 in 1994 to 13,048 in 2000. It has increased 68.7%. The number of divorce-remarriage cases has increased from 5,309 in 1994 to 6,631 in 2000. It has increased 24.9%.
“Since the general public do not take the moral values related to sex and human life seriously, the problems that follow, such as abortion, have become rather serious.”
How about Catholics? “The ‘Sunday Catholics’ and those who have distanced themselves from the Church, hold values similar to the other people in Hong Kong.” “Even the Catholics who still maintain a relationship with the Church or who are steadfast in their faith, will be influenced to a lesser or greater degree by the wide-spread, prevailing ideas in Hong Kong. Therefore, to a certain extent, Catholics encounter a variety of marriage and family problems that are common in Hong Kong.
The Diocese launched the “Year of the Family” because the vision of the Hong Kong society regarding the family and marriage is often in opposition to the plan of God. The conclusion of the Diocesan Synod on Marriage and Family: “In the face of these negative phenomena, we have even greater responsibilities to equip for remoulding the family: strengthening marital relationships through formation, and lending our support to the rebuilding of broken family and interpersonal relationships.” How easier it is to talk about it than to do it!
The state of mind of many Catholics is described by Paul in the letter to the Romans: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:22-24)
The answer of Paul is resounding: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:25) If our Year of the Family is to be successful we have to “Learn Christ”!
The Letter to the Ephesians analyses how to “Learn Christ”:
1. To hear about him and to be taught in him. (Eph 4:21)
2. To put into practice what you have heard. “Put off your old nature of which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22-24)
We hear Christ through the Bible and the living Tradition, the examples of the Saints. The letters of Paul are among the treasure of this teaching.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.” (I Co 3:16-17)
“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12;1-2)
“Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousmess and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? ……We are the temple of the living God……, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” (II Co 6:14,16; 7:1)
“Set your minds on things that are above, and not on things that are on earth……Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” (Col 3:2, 5-6)
3. Actually, nobody can learn Christ unless Christ gives Himself to him.
On the road to Damascus Christ appeared to Saul, made him “see” and made him “filled with the Holy Spirit”. (Act 9:17) At baptism we have received Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Since we have been “chosen” as Paul had been, we should also “suffer much” for the sake of the Lord’s name. (cf. Act 9:16) But it is not we who have to bear with this. It is Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20) and gives us the strength.
Of course our cooperation is necessary because we have the formidable power to fail the Holy Spirit. St. Paul said, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” (Eph 4:30)
Dear brothers and sisters, in this Year of St. Paul, let us cooperate with the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are not just renunciation. It is also joy and peace. (Gal 5:22) Is this not in fact heaven?