The cruise is over, but, since the universal church is starting a year of reflection on the life of the great apostle,St. Paul, let me share some Pauline connections with this trip. (What the Church is marking is the 2000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul.)
At Ephesus, St. Paul stayed for a goodly amount of time building on a Christian community that had been started earlier by some other unnamed apostle. Ephesus was a city of a quarter of a million people and Paul was eventually able to speak to about 25,000 people at one time in the theater there. His speech provoked a riot because the silver workers realized that his success there would endanger their industry of making silver statues of the false goddess, Artemis.
At Athens, Paul spoke to the intellectuals at the hill next to the Acropolis where all the philosophers would gather to listen to new ideas. Surely St. Paul thought that if he could convert the deep thinkers, the very influential people of the time, a large number of people could be won to faith in Jesus. Alas, they laughed him away with his "silly" ideas about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Imagine how discouraged Paul was. He writes about his failure in First Corinthians. This failure provoked him to abandon an approach of trying to win people over to Christ by “worldly wisdom.” His new approach would be to focus on the suffering people experience and make the connection with “Christ crucified.” So, after Paul left Athens he went to Corinth for the first time, preaching “Christ crucified” and he was wildly successful. The lesson for our time: shying away from the difficult parts of the Gospel does not win converts. The hard truths of the Gospel are what win people to faith in Christ.
We then sailed below Greece and then below the boot of Italy as we made our way to Sicily. St. Paul traveled this route as well. Since this part of the trip is a lot of time at sea, it occurred to me that St. Paul used this “down time” to pray, reflect, rest, and share the faith with with his shipmates. He was in chains at this point, on his way to Rome where he would be beheaded in his most perfect witness to Christ.
Though in chains, “there is no chaining the word of God.” After all, St. Paul wrote two thirds of the New Testament.
Today our ship arrived at the Amalfi Coast of Italy. What spectacular beauty we took in as we sailed in a small boat from Amalfi to Positano and back to Amalfi. In Amalfi we toured the church of St. Andrew, the Apostle. St. Andrew was the first to be called by Jesus to be an apostle. (See the end of the first chapter of the Gospel according to John.) St. Andrew was the first one to bring others to Christ, the first one being his brother, St. Peter. St. Andrew, therefore, is a patron saint for those who wish to bring other people to Jesus.
Tradition has it that he died as a martyr in Greece, crucified to a cross set up in an "X" form. When Constantinople was made the capital of the Roman Empire in the 300's St. Andrew's bones were taken there to be enshrined as the relics of the martyr of the Church that eventually came to be called the Orthodox Church. During the Crusades, these relics were taken to Amalfi and enshrined in the church there.
So, in the crypt of the church where St. Andew's relics are I prayed for this intention for me and my parishioners: that the Lord, through the intercession of St. Andrew, would give us the grace of wisdom, prudence and skill in evangelizing Boulder. That's my greatest dsire at this point in my pastorate of Sacred Heart of Jesus in Boulder, Colorado.
Today I saw Ephesus, where St. Paul preached to 24,000 people in an open theater. Where St. John the Evangelist brought the Virgin Mary ("'Behold your mother' and from that day he took her into his home.") Where St. John wrote the Gospel according to John, and where he died and was buried. Where Mary lived out the last years of her life in a home high on a hill above the bustling city. Where the Council of Ephesus decided in 431 AD to acclaim Mary as "theotokos," as the Mother of God, as a way of describing exactly who Jesus is: one person (not 2) who is both God and man, therefore it is right and proper to call Mary the "Mother of God." Ephesus, a huge city of a quarter of a million people at the time of Paul, John and the Virgin Mary. Ephesus, a very ancient city, had a very long history before Christianity of devotion to a mother goddess, Artemis of the Ephesians. Such an ancient devotion was turned upside down by the advent of belief in Jesus Christ. How fitting that God so arranged it that the Mother of God would come to live in this city so the new Christians could switch their devotion to the Lord Jesus and have His mother as one of their residents! After the city was destroyed by a series of earthquakes and the advance of Islam into the area, the local resisdents had such a devotion to Mary that even to this day the Muslims have as strong devotion to Mary and visit the site of her home on top of the nearby high hill. By the way, in the Book of Revelation Ephesus is one of the 7 churches of the Apocalypse. Ephesus is commened by the Lord and then told to repent, and if not, her lampstand would be removed. Ephesus is no longer a Christian city. In fact, the city was destroyed. A somber thought, n'est pas?
Greetings from Istanbul. (If you are checking on my blog for information about SHJ parish's restructuring, scroll down the page and you'll find what you're looking for.)
The Istanbul area is where many of the early Church councils took place defining our faith for the ages. Every Sunday we recite the Nicene Creed which was formulted just a few miles from here and put into its final form right here in Istanbul, then known as Constantinople. The largest church in the Church's first millennium was right here. It was called Hagia Sophia, i.e. Holy Wisdom, referring to the second person of the Holy Trinity because Jesus is the Wisdom of the Father. The original Hagia Sophia was built by Constantine in the early 300's AD. The present building was build by the Emperor Justinian in 532 AD. And it looks that old. When the Muslims took over Constantinople in the 1300's they made Hagia Sophia a mosque and changed the name of the city to Istanbul, meaning something like "plenty of Islam." In the 1920's Attaturk made the remains of the Ottoman Empire into a secularist country, Turkey. He also turned the Hagia Sophia into a museum. That's all for now.