Paul of Tarsus has always been one of my favorite saints. Luckily, my husband likes him too, and therefore had no problem naming our second son after him. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember that Jan 25 is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul until it was too late to prepare something special to celebrate for our son’s name day (thankfully, St. Paul also shares a feast with St. Peter on June 29, so we’ll go with that one this year!).
I DID remember the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul in time to think a bit about St. Paul and why he’s awesome. Here are a few of my conclusions:
1. We carry our past with us for a reason. St. Paul had, to say the least, a unique past when the Lord called him to be an apostle. He was a passionate Pharisee. He was well educated. He came from a wealthy family. He was a Roman citizen. He was a determined persecutor of Christians. Every single one of these characteristics set him apart from the rest of the apostles. And every single one of them made a difference in his life after his conversion. Sometimes, when we think of conversion, we emphasize the newness of life, the change. And there’s something to that. A life with the Lord is definitely a changed life. But our “new” selves are built on our old selves because we really only have oneself. Instead of detaching ourselves from the past, we place it in service of the present and future.
2. It’s OK to take some time out when we need to. Taking time out today is hard. There’s always more to do and not enough time to do it in. Sometimes this seems to be the case with faith and family as well as work and responsibilities. We can absolutely exhaust ourselves and still fall short of all we hoped to do. St. Paul, one of the most admired saints of all time, took time out. A lot of time out. Three YEARS, to be exact. After his conversion and before his years of active ministry, Paul disappeared into the desert for three years; during that time, he was instructed in the ways of the Lord by the Holy Spirit. Of course, that kind of time out probably isn’t realistic for 99.99% of us, but the principle applies. We really can’t give what we don’t have. We have to take time to let the Lord speak to our hearts and communicate himself to us. It isn’t wasted time; it’s the most fruitful time. Don’t have 3 years? Why not start by trying to connect with God deeply for just 3 minutes a day?
3. Every single one of us can have a profound friendship with the Lord. I suppose we could draw this lesson from any saint or holy person, but I think St. Paul demonstrates it in a special way. There have been times when I’ve thought that faith would come easier if we all could have known Jesus when he walked the earth. Really? On second thought, it sometimes seems like maybe it would have been even harder. Either way, St. Paul is a constant reminder that those of us who did not have that privilege are no less able to develop a profoundly personal friendship with the Lord. St. Paul was the only apostle who did not know the Lord prior to his death and Resurrection. Yet he came to recognize his presence in his life and respond to his grace. He accepted God’s mercy and formed an inseparable friendship with the Lord after persecuting his followers. Methinks we have no excuse – the Lord invites EVERYONE to a deep and personal friendship with him. No exceptions.
Years pass by, but honestly, life and human experience doesn’t change all that much. I think many of us today can learn a lot from St. Paul and his life, full of struggle and surrender, mess and beauty. Real life. Real faith.