Lectio Divina: Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

LECIO DIVINA: On the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians

With gratuitous love, God chose us from all eternity to announce the many-faceted riches of his grace. We are invited to reflect more deeply on this gift, taking as our point of departure the Letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians.

The central theme of the Letter to the Ephesians is the mystery of God’s universal plan of salvation, conceived from all eternity but hidden through the ages until it was brought to fulfillment in Jesus Christ, revealed to the Apostle and proclaimed in the Church. This plan encompasses both heaven and earth. Its expansion from Christ, its head, up to the completion foreseen by God constitutes the vast prospect toward which the author directs the gaze of believers. The dynamics of this plan are expressed in images that interweave the growth of the body with the building up of the Church in Christ.

Written while Paul was in prison, the Letter is divided into two parts:

--Part I (chapters 1-3)

God’s marvelous plan of salvation, which brings together the Jewish and pagan worlds in the crucified body of Christ. The Letter presents the Church and the fulfillment of the divine plan; the heart of its message is the great work of God that was brought to completion in Jesus Christ.

--Part II (chapters 4-6)

The moral consequences of living in Christ. Urges the community to live in unity so as to build up the body of Christ and help it grow. The Church is defined as the People of God and the Body of Christ. The divine revelation of this mystery is realized through the Christian community. The Letter concludes with the plea to pray (6:18-20), several brief messages (6:21-22) and a final farewell (6:23-24)

Paul wants to help believers become more aware of the radical changes that have taken place in the world following the death and glorification of Christ. He evaluates and celebrates the gift of God that he now sees concretized in the Church.

The Letter to the Ephesians should not be viewed as the product of particular circumstances but rather as a lyrical and didactic exposition of the Christian Faith (cf. TOB Bible; Ecumenical Translation of the Bible, LDC, Turin 1999).

Blessed by the Father with every spiritual blessing in Christ
The first part of our theme leads us to better understand Paul’s profound grasp of the plan the Father had carried in his heart from all eternity: to make us his beloved children, chosen and redeemed in Christ Jesus.

Lectio: Reading the text

From the Letter of St. Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians 1:3-14
• Praised be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has bestowed on us in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavens.

• God chose us in him before the world began to be holy and blameless in his sight.

• He predestined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ, such was his will and pleasure, that all might praise the glorious favor he has bestowed on us in his beloved.

• In him and through his blood, we have been redeemed and our sins forgiven, so immeasurable generous is God’s favor to us.

• God has given us the wisdom to understand fully the mystery, the plan he was pleased to decree in Christ. A plan to be carried out in Christ, in the fullness of time, to bring all things into one in him, in the heavens and on earth

• And it is in him that we have received our heritage, marked out beforehand as we were, under the plan of the One who guides all things as he decides by his own will, chosen to be, for praise of his glory, the people who would put their hopes in Christ before he came.

• Now you too, in him, have heard the message of truth and the Gospel of your salvation and having put your trust in it, you have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Spirit of the Promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance, for the freedom of the people whom God has taken for his own, for the praise of his glory.

Key to reading this text

This Christological hymn prompts us to reflect on the origins of our vocation: sons and daughters of St. Paul, “Chosen and loved by the Father in Christ Jesus.”

In the prologue to the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul expresses this profound reality in a key word that runs like a golden thread through all salvation history: “blessing.”
What does the Bible mean by “blessing” (“benediction”)?

The Latin root of “benediction” is bonus-dicere, meaning to speak well about someone or something.

A benediction or blessing is a life-giving expression of God’s goodness. His blessing is his gift of salvation, brought to fulfillment in Christ, his beloved Son and given to us through the Spirit (Rm 8:32; Co 1:17; Ga 3:8-9, 14). In fact, the Word of God is effective, that is: it does what it says (cf. Gn 1).

Blessings are effective words: when addressed to the head or founder of a family, they are fulfilled in that person’s descendents.

Paul begins his letter by turning his gaze to heaven, where he remains for the duration of the text (1:20; 2:6; 3:10; 6:12), because it is from heaven that the “spiritual blessings” he speaks about are poured out on us from all eternity and it is in heaven that they will be brought to fulfillment at the end of time
• First blessing: We have been chosen. In Christ, the Father chose us before the creation of the world (1:4).

• Second blessing: Filiation. He destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ (1:5).

• Third blessing: Redemption. We have been redeemed through the blood of his beloved of his Son (1:7).

• Fourth blessing: Knowledge of the “mystery.” The Father has made known to us his plan to bring all things together in Christ: to make Christ the heart of the world (1:9).

• Fifth blessing: Inheritance. In Christ, we have been made heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (1:11).

• Sixth blessing: The seal of the Spirit. In Christ, all of us who listened to the Word of truth and believed in it have received the seal of the Holy Spirit as a sign of our belonging to Christ, the pledge of our inheritance (1:13).

Why only six blessings, not seven?
In the language of the Bible, six is an incomplete number, while seven signifies completion, fullness. So why does Paul list only six blessings from God? Perhaps because he wants us to understand that when we welcome these six blessings (these six gifts of God) in such a way that they transform our lives and enable us to share the overflowing riches of his grace with others, then we ourselves become God’s seventh blessing: a blessing for one another and also for the new generations to whom we take the Gospel.

Meditatio: comparison

Compare Eph 1:3-14 with other Pauline texts:

• 2 Co 1:3-4: Blessed be God, who consoles us so that we can console others.

• Col 3:12-17: Holy and beloved by God, clothe yourselves with goodness.

• 1 Th 1:2-7: Loved by God and chosen by him, you became imitators of us and of the Lord.

Compare Eph 1:3-14 with our charismatic texts and with the Magisterium of the Church

In his goodness, God has bestowed overflowing riches of grace (blessings)  on the Pauline Family through Jesus Christ.

Such graces (blessings) are to be revealed in the centuries to come

by religious women and men (of the Pauline Family) these new angels of he earth.

With a wisdom equal to his love,

the Lord bestowed the many riches (blessings) that are in the Pauline Family:

so that, ‘through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God will be revealed.’

Everything is God’s: everything leads us to the Magnificat.
• Deus Caritas Est (17)

God has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling that we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love and since he has ‘loved us first,’ love can also blossom as a response within us.

God’s blessings are effective: when bestowed on the head or founder of a family, they are fulfilled in that person’s descendents.

Fr. Alberione is the head and founder of our family; we are his descendents: “Projecting himself mentally into the future, he felt that in the new century generous people would experience what he was feeling….”

(AD 17; also cf. AD 5,6).
With wonder and joy, I realize what an immense gift the Lord gave me by calling me to life, to the Faith and to the Pauline vocation.

What do I feel when I realize that I have been “chosen and loved” from all eternity?

Oratio: prayer

I am a Miracle of God

Divine Master,

your mercy is infinite;

I will never be able to fully understand it.

I want to adore it more than examine it.

How is it that you chose me,

a small creature,

a great sinner,

whom you already knew

would betray your expectations?

It was a complete act of mercy—wholly and entirely!

I am a miracle of God!

Your call of the twelve transformed them;

your call to me has made me a new person.

I am immersed in Christ:

his interests are my interests;

his doctrine, my doctrine.

My life is that of Christ.

I carry out his works,

or better, he carries them out in me.

( Blessed James Alberione, Paolo Apostolo, 18)

I offer God my personal hymn of praise and thanksgiving for the overflowing riches of grace (blessings) he has poured out on me and on the Pauline Family:

Contemplatio: I wait for and welcome God’s consolation

In the light of this Word, I evaluate the quality of my response to God, who has “loved and called me from all eternity.”

I come to a better grasp of what I am doing to communicate to others the love I have received so gratuitously from the Lord by evaluating the quality of my life and relationships: with the sisters of my community, with my superiors, with the receivers of my apostolate, etc.

Each of these persons, like me, has been chosen by God, love by his and blessed by him in Christ Jesus.

Actio: action

Enlightened by the Word of Paul, I return to my daily life, encouraged by our Founder’s invitation: “Let everyone consider herself or himself to be a beacon of light, a loudspeaker of Jesus, a secretary of the evangelists, of St. Paul….