Why is the Book of Romans such a Whopper?
What is up with the Book of Romans? Why is it so hard to understand? We've been hearing it non-stop at Mass and I couldn't be more confused if i tried. Can you help me?
I’m so glad you asked this question. First, let me just say you’re not alone in what you’re feeling. Even St. Peter admitted that St. Paul’s writings could be tough to understand (2 Peter 3:15). St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is his masterpiece. It is as beautiful and incredible a written work as the Bible (and the world) has to offer.
That being said…it’s tough.
I mean that honestly. I’ve read it several times, more than I can count, and I still have to concentrate. I am still amazed at how deep it is and how many new things God reveals to me every time I crack its cover (so to speak).
Luckily, the Church is here to help (and so am I, in any small way that I can).
As you’ve probably heard at Mass, Pope Benedict XVI has declared this year “the Year of St. Paul”. Until June 2009, we are encouraged as a Church to reflect on the writings, life and witness of St. Paul. There’s never been a better time for you to ask this question or work hard for the answer.
We were so excited about this Year, that Life Teen has published a bunch of new resources, just to help Catholics, young and old, enter into the year even more deeply. I asked a very talented colleague of mine, Christopher Cuddy, to co-author a book with me about St. Paul’s life and writings. It’s called Sword of the Spirit: A Beginner’s Guide to St. Paul and it’s available in the Life Teen online store.
It’s a great jumping off point, regardless of how old you are or how much you know. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it. I don’t mention it in a self-promoting way…I honestly don’t make a dime on it – the proceeds go to Life Teen. I mention it only because we wanted to create something for people just like you, people who want to go deeper with St. Paul but don’t know where to start. Ironically, we used his Letter to the Romans as sort of our “blueprint” for the book, so that should really answer a lot of your questions.
Beyond that, there are a few key things I can tell you about the Letter to the Romans that might help you, immediately.
Here’s some of the basic things you need to know:
- Romans is St. Paul’s longest, most brilliant and most influential letter
- He was writing the letter to introduce himself to the Christians living there (he had not yet traveled there when he wrote it)
- He was having to deal with (and settle) conflicts between Jewish converts to Christianity and Gentile (non-Jewish) Christians as to whether or not Jewish traditions like circumcision were necessary for non-Jews when they converted
- He was making a strong point that Baptism not circumcision brings the saving grace that they needed
- Some of the key themes St. Paul discusses includes: sin and grace, faith and salvation, the power of Baptism, new life through Christ, God’s total power and the fact that we are His divine sons and daughters through Jesus Christ
One important note – many well-intentioned Christians throughout the past few centuries (since the Protestant Reformation) have attempted to bend St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans to fit their own religious beliefs.
There are truths contained within regarding justification, grace, righteousness, salvation, etc. (way too numerous to go into here, but that you can read more about here) that many non-Catholic Christians have been taught to take out of context. This is in no way a slam on other faith denominations. Far from it…
Most Christians are shocked…absolutely shocked to learn what the Catholic Church teaches about salvation – we know, proclaim and teach that it is a free gift from God.
Most modern Christians are taught, erroneously, that Catholics think we earn our way into Heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth – the Catholic Church plainly teaches that salvation and, indeed, God’s grace is a free and undeserved gift. Look no further than the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections #1987-2005 to be exact. (If your friend doesn’t have a Catechism, share yours or head to a local bookstore and “peruse” the sections over coffee).
Romans, if read in its proper context, will actually build huge bridges between other Christians denominations and the Catholic Church. That is one of the reasons that this Year of St. Paul is so important…it gives Catholics, like yourself, the opportunity not only to ask this question you did, but more access to the answers, terminology, understanding and doctrine that our Church has taught for centuries but that other churches are not aware we believe.
St. Paul’s writings are thoroughly Catholic – universally Christian. St. Paul is Catholic, since the Catholic Church was the only Christian Church for over a thousand years…to be Christian was to be Catholic. Not only that, but when you read St. Paul’s writings you will, as a Catholic, be amazed at how easy it is to understand much of his doctrine and imagery, as it was his doctrine that the Church was built upon.
I am so thankful you took the time to ask this. I hope this answer helped! Keep the faith and keep reading!
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