Reading Saint Paul
This morning in my lectio continua of Saint Paul, I read Romans 7:14-25. I’m using the splendid translation of Monsignor Ronald A. Knox. It renders the text with a striking clarity. Just listen to this. (I say listen, because it is best read aloud.)
I am a thing of flesh and blood, sold into the slavery of sin.
My own actions bewilder me;
what I do is not what I wish to do, but something which I hate.
Why then, if what I do is something I have no wish to do,
I thereby admit that the law is worthy of all honour;
meanwhile my action does not come from me,
but from the sinful principle that dwells in me.
Of this I am certain, that no principle of good dwells in me, that is, in my natural self:
praiseworthy intentions are always ready to hand,
but I cannot find my way to the performance of them;
it is not the good my will prefers,
but the evil my will disapproves that I find myself doing.
And if what I do is something I have not the will to do,
it cannot be I that bring it about,
it must be the sinful principle that dwells in me.
This then is what I find about the law, that evil is close at my side,
when my will is to do what is praiseworthy.
Inwardly, I applaud God’s disposition,
but I observe another disposition in my lower self,
which raises war against the disposition of my conscience,
and so I am handed over as a captive to that disposition towards sin
which my lower self contains.
Pitiable creature that I am, who is to set me free from a nature thus doomed to death?
Nothing else than the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
If I am left to myself, my conscience is at God’s disposition,
but my natural powers are at the disposition of sin.
Fellowship of the Inconsistent
“My own actions bewilder me” (Rom 7:15). Paul’s bewilderment is strangely comforting to me. Paul takes his place among the fellowship of the inconsistent, the weak, and the flawed. The Apostle asks the question for me: “Pitiable creature that I am, who is to set me free from a nature thus doomed to death?” (Rom 7:24). And straightaway he answers it: “Nothing else than the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:15).
The Ministra Gratiae
Given that today is a Saturday Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I related this text of the Apostle to Our Lady’s role in the economy of grace. I am set free by “the grace of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:15), who “took birth from a woman” (Gal 4:5) “full of grace” (Lk 1:28). The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of “the only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:15) opens her hands over all of us who are inconsistent, weak, and flawed. She is the ministra gratiae, the dispenser of the all-sufficient grace of Christ. To the inconsistent she communicates reliance on the grace of her Son. The Blessed Virgin Mary strengthens the weak. She reshapes the flawed.
Yes, “my own actions bewilder me” (Rom 7:15) — but the gracious interventions of the Mother of God, Mediatrix of All Graces, fill me with gratitude and wonder.