One of the classes I’m taking this semester, and compellingly my favorite class, is New Testament. The course is organized in a way such that we have focused more on St. Paul’s letters. After reading through his epistles, I find myself drawn to St. Paul and learning more about him. As a result, I decided to buy a supplemental book to satisfy my intellectual cravings. Fittingly enough, I found out that Pope Benedict XVI has a book on the apostle and so I went for it. One of the reasons I was drawn to him is that I find his words harmonious to the spiritual currents of my heart.
Learning about his significant contributions to building up the Church, in light of his personal story of faith, one thing has stood out to me about St. Paul.
He is an apostle in love. And here are the ways he displayed that love:
1. St. Paul was full of passion in giving the best for the Church
St. Paul did not hesitate to give words of passion to the churches, both of out of concern and appreciation. When things went wrong in Corinth and Galatia, he expressed his passion, almost obsessive somehow to get those churches back in favor to the Lord. To the Corinthians he said “when reviled, we bless; when persecuted we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the dregs of all things” (1 Corinthians 4:12-13). Love is often tested with difficulties and many of us give in to the difficulties and turn away from the one we love and hurt them in the process. This is what happened to the Church in Corinth; its members gave into sexual immorality, dissension, corruption, false worship. They gave up on the faith. And out of love, St. Paul scolded with the words saying that they were wrong. Only a man in love can be driven by passion, a passion that does not lead to internal decay, but one that drives to will the best of the other.
2. His desire for the Church is selfless
As mentioned above, St. Paul was not afraid to see himself as the dreg of all things. For him, if loving the Church means being the dreg of all things, he willed himself to be. Yet, the desire was out of love, for it wasn’t, he knew he would be useless, gaining nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). And even if he gained something, he “counted it as loss” out of his love for Christ and his Bride. As a call, he imitated the love of Christ for His Bride, a totally selfless kind of love. It is not necessarily the pain that makes love selfless, but the choice to will the best of the beloved, and all throughout his apostolic life, St. Paul exhibited that love. No other way was he able to do it, but by losing himself to the love of God for him.
3. His love for the Church was so strong he gave his life for it.
He was aware of the death that could possibly come his way with that love, but he embraced it with a deeper sense of joy. There were the Jews who violently dragged him out of Ico’nium (Acts 14:19), he was beaten by the owners of a slave girl in Philip’pi (Acts 16:16-19) and many more. All because of his desire to proclaim his love for the Church and share it with others. Ultimately, his love took him to the farthest corner of his world, Rome where his love was eventually perfected through his death.
St. Paul lived his life as an apostle who did not reserve his love to those God called to be His own. Love can never last if one is not lost into it. St. Paul lost himself into it. And so he was in love. It is a love, as I realized, that is needed for one to make one’s priesthood fruitful, perhaps not as fruitful as that of Paul.