Sunday, October 20, 2013

St. Paul

Originally a writing assignment at Catholic Distance University

St. Paul is an excellent model for evangelization, a task he embraced from the moment of his conversion. While on his way to persecute the Church in Damascus, St. Paul fell to the ground when he was blinded by a great light (Acts 9:3). Christ asked why Paul was persecuting Him and directed Paul to enter Damascus and wait for further instructions (Acts 9:4-6). Left blind from the experience, Paul was escorted to the city by his co-travelers (Acts 9:7-8). The Lord instructed Ananias to visit Paul, but Ananias was hesitant to do so because of Paul’s notoriety as a persecutor of the Church (Acts 9:10-14). However, Christ insisted by saying, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). So, Ananias traveled to Paul and told him what the Lord said, baptizing him, and Paul regained his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17-19).

From that point, Paul left for Arabia (Gal. 1:17) to pray and meditate before returning once again to Damascus. Being a target of angry Jewish leaders and the king, Paul had to escape from the city by being lowered down a wall while hiding in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). He went to Jerusalem to meet with St. Peter and the other Apostles (Acts 9:26). After Barnabas vouched for the sincerity of St. Paul’s conversion, he preached in Jerusalem until it was discovered that the Jews were trying to kill him (Acts 9:28-29). Upon learning of this, the Apostles sent St. Paul to Caesarea and Tarsus (Acts 9:30).

Around the year 45 while in Antioch, the Lord said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul [Paul] for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Paul, Barnabas, and Mark set out on their first major journey, traveling to the island of Cyprus (Acts 13:4). He would make three major journeys throughout Asia Minor and into Europe, preaching and founding communities in places like Athens, Galatia, Corinth, Philadelphia, Thessalonica, Macedonia, Ephesus, and Philippi. After first bringing the faith to Malta due to a shipwreck (Acts 28:1), he would eventually be taken to Rome in order to bring the faith to as many people as he could. While imprisoned in Rome, tradition suggests that he wrote his letters to the Colossians, the Philippians, Philemon, and the Ephesians before venturing out again to Spain and possibly to Syria, Palestine, Asia Minor, Greece, and Crete. Arrested and brought to Rome again, he would be sentenced to death by the Emperor Nero. Brought to the bank of the Tiber outside of the walls of Imperial Rome, St. Paul was executed by beheading. His head is currently entombed within the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and his body is buried beneath the altar within the basilica of St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls, both in Rome, Italy.

Throughout St. Paul’s travels, he embraced the challenges and sufferings he was conflicted with because it was for the glory of God and the spread of the Gospel. He described his journeys to the Corinthians: “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Cor 11:24-27). No one would suffer so much for a falsehood; therefore it was through these hardships that St. Paul showed the truth of the Gospel and the love he had for the church communities he help found. Paul wrote, “It would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one” (1 Cor 9:15). Throughout his letters and travels, he approached the people he met in a way that they could understand, meeting them where they were in their state in life, so that he could “become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (Acts 9:22). As Christians, we could learn a lot from St. Paul on how to live a faithful life for Christ, enduring the hardships that will be given to us by an unbelieving world, bringing the faith to everyone we meet every day so that “for the sake of the gospel [we] may become…fellow partaker[s] of it” (1 Cor 9:23). Perhaps then with our last breath we may share in St. Paul’s words: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).