“I hate St. Paul.”
I was hanging out with a friend at church when he blurted out this confession to me. Luckily my friend said this before I joined the Daughters of St. Paul so I refrained from sucker punching him, but I did turn to him aghast and say, “What?! We wouldn’t be standing here right now were it not for St. Paul!”
Now, that might be a slight exaggeration, but Paul’s place in the early Church does loom large. He was a dynamic, passionate and relentless missionary of the Gospel. He was confident of his mission from God and he did not refrain from respectfully expressing what he felt was God’s will, even when it conflicted with the first pope, St. Peter.
This week, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29.
And while that is nice and the Daughters of St. Paul love St. Peter, we also don’t like to share our father’s feast with anyone, even the first pope. So we have our own Feast of St. Paul, which is celebrated the day after on June 30.
That’s right, the Daughters of St. Paul get to celebrate St. Paul three times (officially) in the liturgical calendar, including the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25. We’re special.
Anyway, let’s get to the reasons you should love St. Paul if you are not convinced already:
1. Love him or hate him, St. Paul demands a response: Chances are, you either hate St. Paul or you love him. (If you are indifferent to him, you haven’t been paying attention and need to pick up your Bible.) Paul is the kind of person who demands a strong response, whether it is love or hate, and that is one reason why he is one of my favorite saints. If a Christian elicits nothing more than a shrug of the shoulder from another person, then chances are that Christian is not on fire with the heat of the Gospel.
2. Paul was a connoisseur of words: Paul was a master communicator. When he wrote, Paul’s words were never bland. His letters were bonfires, and they still ignite a mixture of rage, admiration, shock, and inspiration in his readers. Scripture writers rarely use the first person, but St. Paul was never afraid to refer to himself, not because he was self-absorbed but because he knew the power of story and memoir-like disclosures. Paul was so beyond self absorption that he was not afraid to reveal what God had done for him in his life, knowing that it was about the power of God, not him.
3. St. Paul had a past: I like saints who are rough around the edges; it is easier for me to relate to them. St. Augustine, St. Ignatius, Venerable Matt Talbot, whoever it is, I love saints with rough backgrounds because it gives me hope that I can be a saint too. Paul assisted in the stoning of St. Stephen and he zealously persecuted Christians, hunting them down and dragging them from their homes. Paul was basically a murderer and a bully! And God looked at Paul and thought, “Now there is the perfect man to spread the Gospel.” Kind of unbelievable. But it gives us hope. If God could not only make something out of Paul but make him one of the greatest saints of the Church, he can surely make something out of each one of us.
4. St. Paul was a master traveler: In his missionary journeys, Paul traveled more than 10,000 miles. This is astounding. To give you some perspective, double that number and add a bit and he would have traveled around the entire world! And this was before modern transportation. Just this fact in and of itself illustrates Paul’s astonishing grit and determination. And it’s not like Paul received a standing ovation when he arrived at his destination. By his own admission, five times he received 40 lashes minus one (a punishment he received in the synagogues). He was beaten with rods three times, stoned and left for dead once, and shipwrecked three times (2 Cor 11:24-25). Paul was not on a leisurely sightseeing trip; he was on a serious mission. And love him or hate him, you gotta admire that drive.
5. St. Paul was a man of humility: Although Paul’s confidence and passion bordered on the brash, he was a man of deep humility. He knew that despite his pivotal role in the spread of the Gospel, his strength was only found in acknowledging his weakness and allowing himself to be completely absorbed by Christ until he could say, “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). It was precisely the explosive combination of Paul’s humility and his brash zeal that made him such an effective Christian, truly another Christ. So often, Christians err on the side of his brashness without the tempering power of humility. Or in the other extreme, our false humility causes us to cower and we fail to preach the truth with zealous courage. Paul is a model for Christians in these troubling times. He teaches us what it looks like to preach the Gospel without fear while also living a deep humility that causes us to only seek only Christ.
St. Paul the Apostle, pray for us.
[Editor’s Note: Take the Quiz – Sinners who became saints]