April 24, 2024 at 11:29 a.m.

The life and conversion of St. Paul

WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.
WORD OF FAITH: A breakdown of each week's upcoming Sunday readings to better understand the Word of God at Mass.

By By Father John P. Cush, STD | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. — 1 John 3:18

Saul of Tarsus, whom we hear about Sunday in the First Reading from Acts of the Apostles, is a fascinating man. We read in the selection from Acts the following:

“When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples,

but they were all afraid of him,

not believing that he was a ­disciple.”

May I suggest that there are three things that we can learn from the life and the conversion of Saint Paul:

First, it’s OK to be human. Second, sometimes in life, you need to be knocked off the horse. And third, sometimes, you have to learn to give a person a chance.

So, first — it’s OK to be human. Saul was no angel. We know from Acts of the Apostles that he was “breathing murderous threats” against the early followers of the Way. He was zealous for the Jewish faith, or at least his brand of it, and, by his own admission, he was the chief persecutor of Christians. It was he who incited the martyrdom of Stephen the proto-deacon. But even when he has his conversion, he’s still more than a little rough around the edges. No wonder the early followers of the Way of the Lord Jesus did not trust him!

When one reads his letters, Paul can be curt; he can be acerbic. “You foolish Galatians!” just to cite one example. And, what is interesting to me at least, is that Paul was so difficult at times that each of his companions, for the good of the Kingdom of God, left the side of Paul. Many scripture scholars believe that this is because of the intensity and the ferocity of the spirit of St. Paul. After a while, he might have been a bit hard to take. Yet, even though they couldn’t work with him on a daily basis, I’m sure that Timothy, Titus, Silas, John Mark and Barnabas loved and respected Paul. The relationship that Paul had with them exemplifies the adage: “We don’t always have to think alike, but we do have to think together.” Paul might have driven them crazy, but I’m sure that his friends knew that he was absolutely brilliant, absolutely driven and absolutely in love with Christ. And it is the fact that he is absolutely in love with Christ that fed and led his friendship with others.

And further, if you think about it, Paul is more than a little insecure about being an apostle. He’s constantly reminding his readers that he’s as much an apostle as Peter and the others. And yet, Paul knows who he is and what he’s meant to do. He allows the grace of Christ to work on his earthen vessel and, even with all the thorns in his flesh, he is able to consecrate his life to the Lord.

Second, you need to be knocked off the horse sometimes. Yes, I know that Acts doesn’t explicitly say that Paul fell off the horse and we really have that image more from art and tradition than anything else. But bear with me. True growth can only come from true struggle. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked what she thought was necessary to form a priest. To paraphrase, she said, “You need to break his heart.” And that’s true. The priest’s heart, and indeed, the heart of all of us, needs to be broken and the only one who can heal the heart is he who is the Sacred Heart. I can attest to this.

Third and finally, you have to give a person a chance. Imagine being the Christian community who had to bring Paul into their homes. Imagine their fear, their distrust, their dislike of this man who had already done so much harm to the Church. And, yet, trust him they did. And, through Paul, the Word of God, Jesus, the Lord, was made known to the Gentiles.

In our lives, we have to trust people. To give that second chance, within reason, to our brothers and sisters who have hurt us, to learn to forgive, if not forget. May we who are already converted to Christ become more fully converted to the truth of Christ crucified in all we do and say.


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