Letter from St Mark's House

St Mark's House

June - July 2018

 

Dear friends

Red or white? That was the only choice we faced at Mama Paola’s trattoria where there is no menu but only and always the meal of the day, served the traditional way: four courses of home-cooked Italian food, plain but plentiful. Such simplicity is welcome if considering supermarket shelves but our response to life’s vicissitudes depends upon what it serves up and what our choices are. Our meal at Mama Paola’s was a favourite haunt of our guide and concluded a small tour on which he had taken us off the more familiar tourist tracks in our recent Roman visit. He led us to the place reputed to have been the home of Luke, the Gospel writer, and the place in Rome where 'Paul was allowed to stay in lodgings of his own with the soldier who guarded him' (Acts 18.16).

Paul is thought to have written four of his letters from imprisonment and when he wrote to the church in Philippi he was not in the Carcer (the Mamertine dungeon) where he was ‘incarcerated’ but in his own rented house, although chained to a soldier. Robbed of freedom, deprived of choice, he had reason to grumble at what life served up, we might think. But he wrote to the Philippians 'Do everything without grumbling … Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!' He had one great choice which he exercised: to choose his attitude. As Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor, wrote, 'everything can be taken from a man but one last thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstance.'

Many people allow circumstances to determine their attitudes. Circumstances may not be as we would wish but we cannot wait until they change to suit us. They may never do so! God may have other, far better, plans. Paul might have questioned why he was in prison; instead he used those years to write letters that are still changing lives and bringing hope today. As John Bunyan said of his imprisonment, when he wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, 'Maybe this is not so much a prison as an office from which I can reach the world with Christ’s message.' Paul would have agreed! To refuse to allow circumstances to determine our attitudes is not to deny setbacks, sickness or sadness. Paul experienced extreme, extensive suffering in the course of his pioneering ministry; yet he wrote, 'I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him [Christ] who gives me strength.' If Paul learned it, so can we!

Choosing

Nick and Harriet