Ephesus and Boulder

By Scott Powell (Originally printed in the Buffalo Catholic, Winter, 2014)

Living in Boulder is a tricky business. 

In many ways, I’m reminded of St. Paul’s time in the ancient Roman city of Ephesus. In it’s heyday, Ephesus was one of the most important cities in the Roman Empire. It was also the cultic center for what we might nowadays call “new age” spirituality.  It was the home a massive temple built to the goddess Artemis, a building so beautiful, it was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.  Of course, with prominent pagan temples in the ancient world also came great sexual decadence. The temple banquet halls were usually the place for overeating, drinking and sexual sin.

So, in other words, Ephesus was known for “new age” spirituality, beautiful surroundings, drinking, partying, and sexual sin. Sound familiar? In many ways, life in Ephesus really does sound a bit like life in our beloved Boulder.

When I first decided to come back to work in my hometown as Director of Scriptural Theology here at St. Thomas Aquinas about a year and a half ago, some of my Catholic colleagues poked a bit of fun at me. They wondered why I would want to leave the relatively green pastures of comfortably teaching the faith to faithful, committed Catholics for the challenges of trying to bring a candle of light into the often-dark corners of CU and Boulder at large.

The reason was that I knew the end of the story.

I knew that when St. Paul came to Ephesus, he stayed there for three years—longer than he stayed in any of the other New Testament Churches. I also knew that he left the Church in Ephesus in the hands of Timothy—his best, and most trusted friend and student. I also knew that St. John and the Blessed Virgin Mary moved to Ephesus, and that Mary spent her final earthly days there. Imagine! This city, which was home to the greatest occult movement in the world, to binge drinking, to partying, to sexual sin and spiritual confusion, was also the home of St. Paul, St. Timothy, St. Apollos, St. John, and the Blessed Mother! What a parish they must have had! Ephesus was important to the biggest super-stars of the early Church—just as Boulder is to us.  And for the students I’ve met at the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center, the Church is important to them.

What has perhaps impressed me most about the students at St. Thomas Aquinas is that they’re not on the defensive. They’re not looking for a fight. St. Paul and the early Church knew that they had the remedy for the ills of a broken world, and understood that if the truth of Jesus Christ could be heard—really heard, that it would change lives every time. Students at CU are looking for an encounter. They’re not looking for a fight; they’re looking for truth—desperately in many cases! In some small way, the students at St. Thomas Aquinas are on the forefront of a revolution; peacefully, resiliently, profoundly and articulately bringing their faith onto campus. They are engaging their classmates, their professors, and their friends with the truth of the Gospel—and they’re changing lives.  

In some ways, it still feels like the frontier in Boulder. Living and teaching the Catholic faith here can be dangerous. There is criticism. There is anger. There are people who have felt hurt by a Church they didn’t understand or which was misrepresented to them. But seeing the lives of our students changed by being part of the life of the Church is worth any risk, and in the end, I’m grateful to be a small part of a new mission to a new Ephesus.