Today we thank you O Lord for your gift of St. Paul whom you converted from being a persecutor of the early Christians to becoming your “Thirteenth Apostle” who stands at equal footing with St. Peter in the growth of your Church.
What made him truly great and effective as an apostle, O Jesus, is not his brilliant rhetoric and sophisticated strategies but his willingness to suffer so much for you and your gospel. He had shown us the essence of discipleship which is to live one’s life completely in you alone – “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).
St. Paul was able to accomplish this by showing us true conversion that we always misunderstand as something like changing into another person completely like turning around a shirt, from being proud and violent to becoming meek, or from being so shy to becoming daring or being impulsive to almost timid. While his letters teem with so many gems in teaching us how he was converted into loving you until the end, his imposing images with his sword remain his most beautiful symbol of conversion.
All his life as his images rightly portray him everywhere, he had kept that sword: when still called Saul, he had that sword to express his zeal and fire for the Law that he persecuted Christians; but on the way to Damascus, you called him and after a period of prayers and studies, he picked up again his sword to preach your gospel with the same fire and zeal that eventually in the end, he willingly accepted death by the sword in your name. From the sword that inflicted pain on others, it became a sword that slew his defects until later at the end of his life in Rome, it caused his martyrdom.
Help me Lord to keep my sword – my weaknesses and shortcomings – not for their own sake but because that’s me, that’s my personality. Help me to change my ways not my heart by using this same sword to slay the defects within me without extinguishing that fire for you and your gospel. Let these defects I have remind me always like St. Paul that “whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ… everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:7-8). Let me fight, O Lord, for your gospel, for your Spirit as I fight pride and other sins within me. Amen. Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II, Parokya ng San Juan Apostol at Ebanghelista, Gov. F. Halili Ave., Bagbaguin, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
*Photo from Google, statue of St. Paul in front of the Major Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the- Walls, Rome.