Today’s feast brings us before the colossal figure of St. Paul the Apostle. I dared to use the adjective since it aptly expresses what his figure means to the faith of the Church and to the spread of the Gospel among the Gentiles. His greatness as a messenger of the Gospel is seen in the fruits of his untiring ministry, which brought about the birth and establishment of Christian communities all over strategic regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea within the confines of the Roman Empire. His letters to these communities, which compose the greater bulk of the New Testament, bring down to his apostolic preaching, fruit of his personal faith and love for Christ, and of his personal experience of faith in the Son of God. Though not belonging to the Twelve, nevertheless with Peter he is honored as one of the greatest Apostles of the Christian Church.
Yet we know that this greatness does not come from any accomplishment of his or from any capability that he may have had, though without any doubt he may have had many to mention. Paul’s measure of greatness stems not from the fact that he was exalted above any other men, but from the fact that in the very beginning he was smitten in a sudden and dramatic way by the Lord, brought low before the eyes of men, as he was on his way to Damascus, to pursue the Lord’s work, or so he thought. His conversion on the road to Damascus was that singular “kairotic” event that would make an indelible imprint on his life, something that would effect a change of seismic proportions, that from that time on, the moment he was lifted from the ground upon which he fell and guided by hands that he could not see to Damascus, his life and the meaning that he could get from it, was never going to be the same again. From being a feared persecutor of the Way and its followers he soon becomes a follower himself and later on one of its staunchest spokespersons and leaders.
It is needless for me to say that we could get a lot of considerations from this that would be beneficial for our own growth in holiness, as we answer our own Christian calling. As I make this meditation I am attracted to consider the known fact that it is not that which we do for the Lord that makes us great; rather it is the other way around: it is that which the Lord does for us that makes us worthy messengers of the Gospel; it is His mercy that makes us great in the His Kingdom.
Let us consider the figure of Saul, as he was commonly known back then, especially before he had that powerful experience en route to Damascus. Even back then he already cut an impressive figure. Once converted to the Faith he would give a list of his credentials: that he was a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, born under Roman law and enjoying all the benefits entitled to a citizen of the Empire. He was sent to study at the feet of one of the greatest teacher of the Law at that time, the rabbi Gamaliel, the very same who gave the wise solution which put an end to the dispute between the Temple and the followers of the new faith (cf. Acts 5:33-39), at least for a while. Saul would add that he was brought up according to the strict observance of the Law. Humanly speaking, in Saul of Tarsus we find an individual who was born to lead; he was fundamentally a well-motivated and driven person. As a consequence it was not strange to see him rise in power as a trusted deputy of the Temple, answerable only to the High Priest. His excessive and extraordinary personal ambition was also responsible or this. Furthermore, he was no friend of mediocrity. His knowledge of the Hellenistic world was valuable and extensive. He was a man of passion, firm and strong-willed. He had everything that one would need in order to be successful in whatever endeavor in life, and yet these things did not make him worthy before the Lord; not even these superb human qualities qualified him to be an apostle. It took the grace of the Lord to make him that. Despite of his human capabilities, Saul had to be struck down with his face to the dust in order that he may be able to raise children for the Kingdom of God; he had to lose his sight, if only for a short while, so that he may be able to see what God really wanted of him; he had to hear the voice of the Christ suffering in His members, so that he may be able to help build up the Mystical Body which is the Church.
It is the Lord who makes us worthy of Himself, not us in our human capabilities.
With regard to ourselves, we need to realize once again that our worthiness lies in the grace of God, not in what we may have or in who we are. Human perfection is not enough to transform us into vessels of grace and messengers of the Gospel. It is rather the Lord’s call and His grace and mercy. Those perfections that we may have undoubtedly come to us gifts from God; yet unless they are fortified by His grace and election we are weak. The experience of Paul the Apostle teaches us that in weakness, power reaches perfection, so long as this weakness is subjected under Jesus Christ, since his grace is enough for us (cf. 2 Cor 12:9-10).