19 November 2023

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (15) 19 November 2023

Pilgrims and tourists queue to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome … the church was in Rome before Saint Paul wrote his Letter to the Romans or was taken there as a prisoner (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we are in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. Today is the Second Sunday before Advent (19 November 2023).

Later this morning, I hope to sing with the choir at the Parish Eucharist in the Church of Saint Mary and Saint Giles in Stony Stratford. But, before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

Throughout this week, I am reflecting on the seven churches in cities or places that give their names to the titles of nine letters or epistles by Saint Paul: Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessaloniki.

My reflections this morning follow this pattern:

1, A reflection on a Pauline church;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is said to be built on the site of Saint Paul’s burial

Saint Paul’s Rome:

The Apostle Paul wrote 14 of the 27 books the New Testament. He founded several Christian communities in Asia Minor and Europe from the mid-40s to the mid-50s AD, and wrote letters to the churches in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae and Thessaoloniki.

Saint Paul was born Saul ca 6 CE in Tarsus, the Roman city that was the backdrop for Cleopatra and Marc Anthony’s first meeting. He was a member of the tribe of Benjamin and was born into a wealthy Pharisee family. He grew up learning tentmaking, the trade of his native province Cilicia. At first, he strongly opposed Christianity and was involved in persecuting the early Christians in Jerusalem and Judea.

On his way to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus was blinded by a vision of Christ who asks him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ (Acts 9: 4). He was converted, changed his name to Paul, spent three years in Arabia and eventually returned to Damascus.

When he was forced to flee Damascus, he moved to Jerusalem and met the Apostles. His relentless dedication to Christianity lead him to travel in his missionary journeys, from Tarsus and Antioch to Cyprus and Galatia.

At the Council of Jerusalem in 49 CE, he argued that people did not need to become Jews to follow Christianity. Between 55 and 57 CE, Paul travelled through Greece and Illyricum and wrote to the Christians in Rome. In all, he made three missionary journeys through Asia Minor, Greece, Macedonia, Cyprus, Judaea and Syria.

When Saint Paul was imprisoned at Caesarea in 57-59, he appealed and asked to be brought to Rome as a Roman citizen. A shipwreck on the way caused him to land in Malta before he eventually reached Rome. There, he lived under house arrest for two years and continued to write letters and to preach to continue his mission.

Irenaeus wrote in the 2nd century that Peter and Paul had been the founders of the church in Rome and had appointed Linus as succeeding bishop. However, Paul was not a bishop in Rome, nor did he bring Christianity to Rome since there were already Christians in Rome when he arrived there. Paul also wrote his letter to the Church in Rome before he visited Rome.

After appearing before the Emperor Nero, Saint Paul journeyed on to Spain and continued to write letters. Some traditions suggest Paul could have revisited Greece and Asia Minor after visiting Spain, that he was arrested in Troy, and taken to Rome where he was executed.

The Pantheon is Rome’s best-preserved ancient temple (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In an attempt to shift the blame from himself for the Great Fire of Rome in 64 CE, Nero began executing Christians. Saint Paul was arrested and taken to the Mamertine Prison.

Legend says that on the orders of Nero, Saint Paul was beheaded south of Rome. Saint Paul was buried in a Roman necropolis on the Ostian way, in the family tomb of a Christian woman, Lucina. The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls was built on the site, and his tomb is said to be beneath the High Altar.

A sarcophagus said to hold his remains was uncovered in 2016. A marble tombstone dating from 390 CE with the inscription ‘Paulo Apostolo Mart’ (‘Apostle Paul, Martyr’) was unearthed by the Vatican archaeologist Giorgio Filippi. According to Filippi, the sarcophagus was commissioned by the Emperor Theodosius. It is embedded in the layers of the basilica erected by Theodosius in 390 to enlarge one originally built by the Emperor Constantine in 320 CE.

Other accounts say the skulls of Saint Paul and Saint Peter were kept in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome since at least the ninth century.

The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls is one of Rome’s four major papal basilicas, along with the basilicas of Saint John in the Lateran, Saint Peter's, and Saint Mary Major, as well as one of the Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome: Saint John Lateran, Saint Peter’s, Saint Paul Outside the Walls, Saint Mary Major, Saint Lawrence outside the Walls, Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Divine Love, but until 2000 Saint Sebastian Outside-the-Walls. The Seven Church Walk is traditionally undertaken on Wednesday of Holy Week.

Saint Paul’s Within the Walls (San Paolo dentro le Mura), also known as the American Church in Rome, is the Episcopal Church in Castro Pretorio. It was designed by English architect George Edmund Street in the Gothic Revival style, and was completed in 1880. Street also designed All Saints’ Church on the Via del Babuino, about 100 meters from the Spanish Steps. It is part of the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe.

With the Revd Dr Alan McCormack (then Dean of Residence, Trinity College Dublin), and Archdiocese Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain (then Archbishop of Hong Kong) at Saint Paul Without the Walls in Rome in 2005

Matthew 25: 14-30 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 14 ‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” 21 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” 23 His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” 26 But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29 For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30 As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.’

The Basilica of Saint John Lateran is the cathedral church of Rome … some accounts say it holds the skulls of Saint Paul and Saint Peter (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 19 November 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence’. This theme is introduced today:

Pray with USPG during this annual international campaign to combat violence against women.

The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign was launched in 1991 by the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL). Each year, the campaign begins on 25 November – which is International Day Against Violence Against Women – and ends on 10 December – which is International Human Rights Day.

The aims of the campaign are to raise awareness of the issues, to lobby internationally against gender-based violence, and to inspire women globally as they seek to combat violence.

Stir us with a resolve not to be silent.
To speak out against the abuse of power;
especially in our homes.
To speak up
for those who have been pushed down
in any way.
To speak to
the needs of those who are suffering
at the hands of another.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ,
who extended his forgiving hands to all. Amen

Prayer from Re:stored.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (19 November 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

Lord Jesus, born of the blessed Virgin Mary,
pour your blessings on all women today,
especially those who face discrimination and violence.
Reveal to them their worth and dignity before you.

The Basilica of Saint Mary Major stands on the summit of the Esquiline Hill in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Heavenly Father,
whose blessed Son was revealed
to destroy the works of the devil
and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life:
grant that we, having this hope,
may purify ourselves even as he is pure;
that when he shall appear in power and great glory
we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom;
where he is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Gracious Lord,
in this holy sacrament you give substance to our hope:
bring us at the last
to that fullness of life for which we long;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Additional Collect:

Heavenly Lord, you long for the world’s salvation:
stir us from apathy,
restrain us from excess
and revive in us new hope
that all creation will one day be healed
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow (Corinth)

All Saints’ Church on the Via del Babuino is one of two Anglican churches in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Dome of Saint Peter’s Basilica, seen across the Tiber, towers above the skyline of Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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