St. Paul the Apostle
1. St. Paul was by nature fiery and zealous. Once he discovered the truth, he was ready to die for it. Originally he was convinced that Judaism contained the whole truth, and for this reason he hated the Christians, whom he regarded as a sect which had corrupted the sacred Hebrew tradition. The deacon Stephen was the first victim of his persecuting zeal. As he was being stoned and beaten to death this saintly young man prayed for his persecutors. It may be that in this moment his eyes, shining with faith and love, encountered those of the man who hated him. Soon afterwards Saul (this was Paul's real name) left Jerusalem for Damascus carrying letters investing him with new powers for the persecution of the infant Church. On the way this headstrong but sincere enemy of Christianity was suddenly dazzled by a light from Heaven. He fell to the ground and heard a mysterious voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” Terrified, he answered: “Who art thou, Lord?” “I am Jesus,” the voice said, “whom thou art persecuting.” (Acts 9: 1-5) From that day Saul was changed completely. Under the influence of divine grace he became the Apostle of the Gentiles.
Before he set out on his missionary journeys Paul went apart into the desert of Arabia, (Cf. Gal. 1:17) where he remained some time in prayer and recollection. Then he went to Jerusalem to pay homage to the Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter (Gal. 1:18). After this he began his apostolic travels, in the course of which he encountered all kinds of hardship and danger. The Jews frequently hunted him in order to put him to death. He was often cruelly scourged and flung into prison, and several times he was shipwrecked and had miraculous escapes from death. (Cf. 2 Cor. 11: 23-27) He bore everything joyfully however, in order to prove his love for Jesus Christ. Charity was always his main incentive. “The love of Christ impels us.” (2 Cor. 5:14) Charity, he said himself, “believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (Cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-13) His charity was so great that he could truthfully say: “Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not inflamed?” (2 Cor. 11:29)
St. Paul could make this claim because his heart had become identified with the Heart of Jesus. Therefore he could say: “It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me;” (Gal. 2:20) and: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain;” (Phil. 1:21) and: “I am hard pressed from both sides - desiring to depart and to be with Christ, a lot by far the better; yet to stay on in the flesh is necessary for your sake.” (Phil. 1:23-24)
Let us meditate on this ardent love of God. Let us cast aside our coldness and indifference and ask St. Paul to set us on fire with divine charity.
2. We can learn other virtues from St. Paul besides his zealous love for God and for his fellowmen. We can also learn from him the virtues of humility and of apostolic fervour. The Apostle of the Gentiles reached such heights of sanctity as to feel himself transformed into Christ Himself and to deserve to be taken up into the third Heaven where he enjoyed a foretaste of eternal happiness. Nevertheless, he considered himself unworthy to be called an Apostle and realised that all his gifts came to him from God. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything, as from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.” (2 Cor. 3:5) Whenever we succeed in any project we should think on the same lines, because it is only when we are humble and depend on the grace of God that the success of our actions will redound to the glory of our Creator. If the cancer of ambition or of self-love should corrupt our purity of intention, our work would not be blessed by God and would not make us worthy of everlasting life. Let us repeat often: "All for You, with You and in You, my God."
3. "Always breathe the life of Christ; place your trust in Him; and live as if every day were your last." (St. Athanasius, "Life of St. Anthony," n. 91)