Saturday, January 25, 2020

The Conversion of St. Paul: Medicine for our own journey

Today is the annual celebration of St. Paul’s conversion. It is also is an occasion to reflect on the Blessed Apostle’s extraordinary story and how it relates to our own. The reading from Philippians appointed in the Daily Office points to the transformation he underwent—one from a certainty in the Law to a certainty in the Love of Christ, which fulfills and transcends the Law of Moses. 

It is this characteristic of total surrender, a desire for complete union with God—of being “in Christ” no matter the cost, which marks St Paul’s thought and writings. It also sets the goal for all Christians in how we approach the struggles and challenges on our own journey. 

Sometimes we allow the distractions and “options” of life to cloud the simple truth we hold: that in us, Christ is gaining victory, and by that victory, we are overcoming the world, sin, and death. We are "new creations." Today is a blessed opportunity to re-affirm the foundation of our life: Jesus Christ crucified, risen, and glorified. All else must flow from this fundamental identity and loyalty.

To aid in this, here is a passage in praise of St. Paul from one of the Early Church’s greatest preachers; in it we see once more the optimism, hope, and strength possible by putting our trust in Christ, and not in this world’s powers or passions. May it fuel renewed courage and clarity in our lives!

Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: “I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead.” When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: “Rejoice and be glad with me!” And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: “I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution.” These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them.

Thus, amid the traps set for him by his enemies, with exultant heart he turned their every attack into a victory for himself. Constantly beaten, abused and cursed, he boasted of it as though he were celebrating a triumphal procession and taking trophies home, and offered thanks to God for it all: “Thanks be to God who is always victorious in us!”

This is why he was far more eager for the shameful abuse that his zeal in preaching brought upon him than we are for the most pleasing honors, more eager for death than we are for life, for poverty than we are for wealth.

He yearned for toil far more than others yearn for rest after toil. The one thing he feared, indeed dreaded, was to offend God; nothing else could sway him. Therefore, the only thing he really wanted was always to please God.

The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers.

He preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honored. To be separated from that love was, in his eyes, the greatest and most extraordinary of torments; the pain of that loss would alone have been hell, and endless, unbearable torture.

So too, in being loved by Christ he thought of himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet.
-- From a Homily of St. John Chrysostom, Bp. of Constantinople