March 09, 2009
Contemporary Christians may be surprised to learn that
deciding whether to eat meat or vegetables was a point of
contention in the early Christian Corinthian community.
Yet this was precisely the kind of question St. Paul dealt with
when helping early Christians to build a sense of community, said
Fr. Patrick J. Griffin, C.M., Executive Vice President for Mission
and Branch Campuses at St. John’s University.
Paul recognized the challenges of uniting a community made up of
Christians, Jews and Gentile converts. As Fr. Griffin explains,
Paul always considered the good of the overall Christian community.
As he wrote, “therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will
never eat meat again.”
Fr. Griffin explored these issues in his talk, “Pondering Paul:
The Question of Conscience,” the fifth in a continuing series of
lectures celebrating The Year of Paul. Students, faculty and staff
gathered for the lecture at St. Thomas More Church, Queens campus,
on March 5, 2009.
Freedom of Action and Responsibility
Focusing on passages from St. Paul’s letters to the
Corinthians, Fr. Griffin explored Paul’s belief in the importance
of acting in accordance with one’s conscience — the glue that holds
the community together.
According to Fr. Griffin, the issue of conscience began in the
Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve faced humanity’s first
opportunity to willingly choose obedience to God. The
resulting responsibility of the individual impacts Paul’s
Fr. Griffin also emphasized Paul’s overriding belief that each
one of us must take responsibility for our own actions and
decisions. As Paul said, “Each one must examine his own work, and
then he will have reason to boast with regard to himself alone …
for each will bear his own load.”
Expanding on Paul’s views on the interrelationship between
conscience, freedom, choice, responsibility and communal values,
Fr. Griffin noted the continued relevance of Paul’s writings. After
all, these same factors come into play today as we seek ways to
meld people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Similarities to Today
Paul was always concerned with the health of the community.
Therefore, in dealing with individuals who act immorally, he looked
at how these actions affect the whole group. Those who threaten the
integrity of the group, he says, should be asked to leave. The
point is not to punish the transgressor but to save him so he can
be readmitted having learned his lesson.
Fr. Griffin alluded to the similarities between ancient Corinth
and 21st century New York, including the fact that New
York comprises people of varying ethnicities, religions and
Why St. Paul
Speaking about the significance of celebrating Paul, Fr. Griffin
stated, “We’re a Catholic university. It’s part of who we are and
it’s part of our mission. In joining with the worldwide Church, we
recognize our heritage and share it with our future.”
“The description of our University as Catholic, Metropolitan and
Vincentian fits well with the way in which one could describe
Paul,” Fr. Griffin added. “He had met the Risen Jesus; he had a
deep love for the people whom he served; he was especially
attracted to carrying out his ministry in cities. St. Vincent
learned some of his pastoral skills from his reading of St.
We invite you to learn more about
The Year of Paul.