by Father Mike Stubbs
In the typical hero story, incredible obstacles stand in the way. But the hero is able to overcome them — to save the world from destruction, to rescue the damsel in distress, to defeat the evil villain. Whether it is Indiana Jones, James Bond or Zorro, the hero always is able to rise above the hardships that block his way, in order to reach his goal.
In a sense, St. Paul challenges all Christians to see themselves as heroes. He encourages us to rise to the occasion.
According to St. Paul, the Christian life demands heroic effort on our part. Numerous obstacles stand in the way as we make our journey of faith. But through Christ’s help, we can overcome them. Through Christ’s help, we can reach our goal.
St. Paul asks rhetorically what can keep us from experiencing Christ’s love. He then ticks off a list of potential obstacles: “anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, the sword.” We should note that these items add up to the number seven, and that the number represents fullness or completion.
In other words, these seven obstacles stand for all possible obstacles. The concept of fullness receives further emphasis in the sentence which follows, specifically in the phrase: “all these things.” That is to say, St. Paul is certain that nothing can stand in the way of Christ’s love.
In the face of all obstacles, St. Paul claims victory through Jesus Christ: “We conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.” Just as Jesus Christ conquered death through his resurrection, so also we overcome all that might separate us from him.
St. Paul further affirms his confidence in Christ’s love by listing forces that might oppose it: “death, life, angels, principalities, present things, future things, powers, height, depth.” These also cannot keep us from Christ’s love.
When St. Paul mentions these potential obstacles to Christ’s love, he writes from his own experience. It is not a theoretical question. He himself narrowly escaped stoning, endured shipwreck, and eventually was beheaded. But despite all these, he attests to the power of Christ’s love.
We ourselves might formulate our own list of potential obstacles to Christ’s love from our own lives: financial troubles, health issues, difficulties in personal relationships.
St. Paul, through his word and example, encourages us to work through these hardships and to continue in the love of Christ. His faith reinforces our own. He assures us of eventual victory in Christ.