The Great Apostle, Part I

Statue of St. Paul St. Peter's Square
Statue of St. Paul
St. Peter’s Square

And we’re back! This week’s saint is St. Paul, known as the Great Apostle. St. Paul wasn’t one of the original apostles, but we might consider him an apostle by adoption, an apostle by grace, or an apostle by influence. We know so much about him because of his epistles. In fact, 14 of the 27 letters in the New Testament are attributed to him. This is incredibly important, because not only does he pass along to us the understanding and teaching of the Church from its first days (which is quite thorough already!), but he tells us much about himself in the process. In fact, we know so much about him that I’m going to have to write this segment in two parts. Also, this will keep these shorter, and might keep the secretary from getting too mad at me…

Paul’s father was a Roman citizen, and of a certain class that his citizenship passed on to Paul as well. He was likely part of a devoutly Jewish merchant family, as Tarsus (where he was from) was one of the largest trade centers in the Mediterranean. Originally, his name was Saul, possibly after the original King Saul, who like him, was of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin.

St. Paul spent much of his childhood selling tents, which later came in handy to fund his missionary journeys. I mean, people in the ancient world loved tents! He was very educated, and steeped in the Jewish faith as a member of the Pharisee class. He studied under Gamaliel, one of the most famous rabbis in history, but he also learned Greek and studied the Greek philosophers as well, which his writings clearly reference. He was so zealous as a Pharisee that he persecuted the early Christian community, and was even present at the death of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.

"The Conversion of Saint Paul" by Luca Giordano
“The Conversion of Saint Paul” by Luca Giordano

Of course, his conversion on the road to Damascus is well documented, so much so that it has it’s own feast day in the Church calendar. Along the way, St. Paul was blinded, knocked off his horse, and heard a voice crying out, “Saul, Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” It was indeed Jesus, who felt the persecution of his Church as his own. Christ told Paul to go to Damascus and meet Ananias, another Christian, who would teach him the ways of the faith, almost like a primordial RCIA program. Good thing our RCIA team doesn’t have to heal blindness too often, eh?

The dramatic conversion of St. Paul calls us to our own continued conversion as well. It shows us that anyone, even someone like Paul who threatened and persecuted and killed the early followers of Jesus, could be saved by God’s grace. Even when we might think that we are too sinful and shameful to receive God’s forgiveness, he reaches out to us through the Sacrament of Reconciliation to bring us mercy and conversion of heart. And then, like St. Paul, he sends us out to give thanks for his mercy and courageously and joyfully live as a witness to the world. But we’ll save that part until next week. Stay tuned!

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