This is the introduction to a five-part commentary on the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans. I hope that the reader is inspired to pray with the passages from this letter. My intention is not to explain everything. Rather, I hope to point to and give light to different verses that have affected my own prayer life and relationship with Christ.
There are themes and ideas that come up in Romans. Understanding these themes or ideas can be helpful to the reader who likes to know what he or she is getting into before entering into prayer. You will notice that that not every verse or passage is mentioned. You will also notice that some of the commentary is meant to be a reflection and a means to enter into prayer. Ultimately, this little commentary should compel the reader to surrender oneself more fully to Christ and live that discipleship. You may also notice that the topic changes as Saint Paul continues writing. The coherence and implicit structure of the letter should help one understand the content a little better. Here are some first words about his letter to the Romans:
Paul firmly proclaims the redemptive power of the death and resurrection of Christ. When this proclamation is received, it requires death of self so that the word of God might take root in the heart.
Death of self is the decision to no longer let sin reign in one’s body. That death is a laying down of one’s will. There may not be an immediate joy or excitement that comes from denying oneself. However, that willful decision to put God first and let him prune you and mold you in His image is that death of self. At first and for a while, the effect of casting off and deciding to put away lustful thoughts is painful. The experience of this pain is a sign of that death of self. The reality of one’s death can also sometimes feel like a desolate season in prayer or a “stagnated zeal” for love of God and neighbor. It is that pain of persevering and “getting through” the season of stagnation that can be death of self.
Now, this death could be in vain. This death does not have to be offered to God. What I mean by that is we look at our pain and we decide to sit with it. In that moment, we have decided that we are best suited to deal with it, without God. We do not want this death to be in vain. We were buried with him into death, not by ourselves, and not for our own purpose. Our death or sacrifice is not meant to be alone or in isolation but offered with and in the death of Christ himself. Remember this: anyone who dies does not die to himself but to the Lord (Romans 14:7-9), for we are the Lord’s! How else would my pain or suffering be efficacious or worthwhile?
When I surrender this sinful and broken life to God, I will be able to say with Saint Paul, “he who has died is freed from sin.” From this comes the resurrection. The power of Christ’s resurrection is such that it supplies the grace to avoid the near occasion of sin. Therefore, this resurrection is a freedom from sin and a “newness of life.” I merited neither this freedom nor a life of grace, but Christ won it for me. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The just man gave himself up for the unjust (Romans 5:6-11). When someone dies of himself, he can see close at hand a newness of life. There is a glory and indwelling of the Holy Spirit that seems to accompany the risen Christ. The life of the Holy Spirit dwelling within you has real life implications and consequences.
This freedom from sin is a freedom for a Spirit-filled life. Such a life is characterized by certain interior dispositions and habits such as kindness, gentleness, peace, joy, and long-suffering. This Spirit-filled life has real fruit, such as a certainty and confidence in the truth of divine revelation and the teachings of the Catholic Church.
There are some other effects too. In the Acts of the Apostles we read that when Peter and John “had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). It’s probably true that most of us haven’t experienced the room shaking. But that boldness! Speaking the word of God with boldness is a real life fruit that come from living a Spirit-filled life. The Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans will dive into the life of Christ, including his baptism, death, and resurrection. Saint Paul has this ability to relate the life of Christ to your own personal and community life.
I hope this little commentary will help the reader prayer and come closer to Christ. The next five articles will deal with three chapters at a time with the exception of the last article: chapters one to three, four to six, seven to nine, ten to twelve, and thirteen to sixteen.