I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you. Colossians 4:18
Yesterday on our last day in Rome we visited St. Paul’s Cathedral. We are so glad we made this part of our journey. It was here where we saw what is said to be the “undisputed” chains that Paul wore in Rome. As I looked at those chains I remembered these verses that I have read many times.
As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Philippians 1:13
Even though he was in prison and in chains he was bold.
for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephesians 6:20
But later I remembered what Paul taught us about grace.
We approached the front of the cathedral towards the area where they currently have mass. The church is the second largest church in that city behind St. Peter’s. There is a huge open area for people to come into. It was empty for the exception of a few tourists. When I say the word huge I really should write it like this: HUGE. By the way, one of our hosts for the week told us that only about 11 percent of Italians regularly attend Mass and 75 percent of them are over the age of 60. There are less than one percent of the people in the country that would say that they have a personal relationship with Jesus. Italy is definitely a country that we would describe as post Christian. Near the front of the church you will find the crypt where it is said that Paul is buried. This is where you will find his chains and see his tomb. It is covered with glass and you can look down towards it.
There is a kneeling bench just in front of his tomb. I noticed a teenage girl down on her knees rubbing a book that her mother gave her on top of the glass. She rubbed the covers and the inside pages. Then she rubbed the book that she brought. Then everyone started handing her things to rub on the glass. They gave her hats, jewelry, books, pamphlets or anything that a person could hand her. They believed that by her rubbing the object on the glass over Paul’s tomb that it would give some sort of power or luck upon that object and of course if you possessed that object then the power or luck would be transferred to you. I sat there and watched that for probably 5 minutes. My heart broke for these people from all over the world who came to do this. For it was Paul who wrote…
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Paul, Ephesians 2:8
My heart broke for these people for there is nothing that we can do or even rub that can get us closer to God or give us power or luck. It is only by grace that we have been saved. I remembered and I am totally grateful for the chains that he wore as he boldly proclaimed the gospel in a hostile world but I am so thankful for the grace from our Lord that gives us life and freedom. Thank you Paul for teaching us that as well.