Saint Paul the Zealous Missionary, by Monsignor John T. McMahon

[Saint Paul the Apostle]Saint Paul fell in love with Jesus Christ on that day he rode to Damascus, when his horse, frightened by a blinding light, threw him to the ground. Lying there Jesus appeared to him, spoke to him, and won him completely. The image of Jesus was imprinted on his mind and kept alive in his heart never to be forgotten. Jesus selected Saint Paul in this extraordinary manner because He saw the mighty heart within him, and that heart Christ filled with love and fashioned into the zealous apostle Paul. That vision of Christ did more for Saint Paul than any course of study.

Saint Paul’s fourteen epistles breathe the spirit of that apparition and come from a heart on fire with love. From that moment his apostleship began. In his remarkable missionary life Saint Paul was not so much spreading a cause as following a Person. A personal love of Jesus filled his heart with the driving force of fire that made him all things to all men. Throughout his life, in every circumstance, Saint Paul looked inward to Jesus Christ within him as the solution and answer to every question that life brought to him.

“Cor Pauli, cor Christi,” said Saint John Chrysostom: “The heart of Paul is the Heart of Christ.” The Apostle himself says: “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 3:20). Listen to those glowing words of the big-hearted Apostle: “I count all things to be but loss . . . that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

The Christian ought to “Have the same mind as Christ” (Phil. 2:5). Let us always converse with Jesus within our hearts. “Whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him” (Colossians 3:17).

Confidence in Christ abiding within us makes Saint Paul cry: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? For in all these things we overcome because of Him that has loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels, nor principalities, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

The vision of Jesus Christ inspired Saint Paul to pray this grace for each one of us: “That He should grant you according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened by His Spirit, with might unto the inward man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that being rooted and founded in charity, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height and depth, to know also the charity of Christ which surpasses all knowledge, that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 1:3-12).

The Spirituality of Saint Paul

The life of sanctifying grace begins at Baptism when Christ enters our souls as a Divine Guest. Through the indwelling Christ we begin to live and grow in holiness. Saint Paul tells us: “You are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). By Baptism we are dead to the life of nature; but born again children of God. Christ is within us, to be developed unto the perfect age. We are to put on Christ. Saint Paul appeals to us: “Put on Jesus Christ, all of you. You have been clothed with Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27).This is the heart of the wonderful doctrine of Saint Paul, the principal aim of his preaching, and the recurring theme of his writings. “We have been grafted on Christ” (Romans 6:5), he writes, and as a result our barren and sterile life has been changed into a life bearing fruits unto eternity. Saint Paul does not hesitate to exclaim: “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:26). Recall his celebrated comparison with the head and the members of the body. He writes: “For as the body is one, and has many members: and all the members of the body whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ . . . . You are the body of Christ and members of member” (I Corinthians 12:12-27).

This idea of Saint Paul is the foundation of the whole spiritual life. It is marvellous in its simplicity. The soul in sanctifying grace possesses Christ within her. Our growth in holiness is reduced to one idea which is at the same time a glorious ideal. Saint Paul advises us to renounce ourselves in order to allow Christ to do all things in us. At each hour, in every action we perform, let us say to ourselves: “I will not live this act but let Christ live it in me.” It was the practice of Saint Vincent de Paul to say to himself before each action: “How would Christ do this?”

This ideal of making room for Christ by stripping the soul in order to clothe it with Christ was lived and preached by Saint John the Baptist. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Saint Paul’s Ideal Lived Today

Saint Paul’s ideal of a life in the Name of Jesus must be applied to our every day living through thinking in the heart. It is an ideal open to all. Jesus is within our hearts through sanctifying grace and consequently our spiritual life will guard that heart of ours, and we shall listen to His whisperings and obey the least impulses He gives that He may live perfectly within us.

The sublime spirituality of Saint Paul has a modern interpreter in Saint John Eudes, (canonized in 1925, died in 1680) who writes: “As Saint Paul assures us that he fills up the sufferings of Christ, so we may say in truth that a true Christian, who is a member of Jesus Christ, and united with Him by grace, continues and carries to completion, by every action performed in the spirit of Jesus Christ, the actions which Christ Himself performed during the time of His peaceful life on earth. So that, when a Christian prays, he continues the prayer of Jesus during His life on earth; when he works be makes up what was wanting to the life and conversation of Jesus. We must be like Jesus upon earth, continuing His life and His actions, doing and suffering all in the Spirit of Jesus, that is to say, in holy and divine dispositions” (Kingdom of Jesus).

The great Flemish painter, Janssens, has represented in a beautiful picture Jesus Christ standing on the Mount of the Beatitudes with arms outstretched, saying: “My son, give Me your heart.” This painting symbolizes Saint Paul’s doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ. Christ says to each one of us: “My son, lend Me your heart, so that I may look upon it as My Own, and cause My virtues to shine forth in it, and in this way continue My life on earth and satisfy My intense love for My heavenly Father.”

The Prophet David in the “Miserere” psalm asks of the Lord: “Create a clean heart in me, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” In a word, we strive to be one with Jesus. Saint Margaret Mary narrates in the notes she left behind her: “The Friday of the Octave of Corpus Christi, after Communion, my Jesus said to me, ‘My daughter, I have come to you to substitute My soul for yours, My heart and My spirit in place of yours, so that you may henceforth live only by and for Me.’ This grace had such an effect that nothing has subsequently been able to trouble the peace of my soul, and my heart has no power except to love God only.”

Joy Comes from Love of God

Life for all of us is a mixture of joy and sorrow. Saint Paul challenges us: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice” (Phil. 4: 4). God has created us His children for joy. The prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper bids us live in joy. “Holy Father I pray that they may have My joy filled in themselves” (John 17:13).

Joy is a worship to give to God. It is the barometer of the soul. The Church never ceases to rejoice. She counts her days by the feasts. She may march in sorrows and persecutions but her eyes are raised to heaven singing the perfection and love of her Spouse. The Church lives in joy, a joy free, serene and strong, the fruit of love. The good Christian is a sower of joy, that is why he does great things. For joy is one of the irresistible powers of the world; it pacifies, disarms, conquers, and draws to itself. The joyous soul is an apostle, drawing men to God, manifesting what is produced by the presence of God. That is why the Holy Spirit gives this counsel:

“Be not sad, for the joy of the Lord, is our strength” (II Esdras [Nehemiah], 8:10).

Saint Paul tells us that because we are children of God through adoption our supernatural vocation is to be joyous. Joy wells up within us because of the abiding presence of Jesus in our souls. “Sursum Corda”, lift up your hearts and be conformed to Jesus, look at Jesus, imitate Jesus, live like Jesus, become Jesus. And this is possible to everyone, priests and religious, virgins and married, old and young, through thinking in the Heart of Him that abides with us for ever. The lives of the saints assure us that “a merry heart pleases the Lord”. When the heroic Saint Thomas More staggered his way up the rickety steps of the scaffold, he murmured: “A merry heart goes all the way.” Therefore let us from henceforth fashion our inner selves according to the counsel of Saint Paul: “Be therefore, all of you, followers of God, as most dear children: and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has delivered Himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness” (Phil. 5:1-2).

Saint Paul Answers Pain

Then comes the cross of suffering, mental and bodily, and how shall we bear it? Saint Paul has a wonderful answer to the problem of pain and suffering. He writes: “I fill up in my flesh those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24). He calls on us to suffer in close companionship with Jesus, “always bearing about in our body the mortifications of Jesus” (II Corinthians 4:7).

“With Christ I am nailed to the cross” (Gal. 2:19) is Saint Paul’s determination to imitate Christ’s sufferings and to reproduce His Passion in his own life.

Jesus wishes to reproduce and continue His own life in us, and that includes the Mystery of His Passion. If we build up a habit of thinking like this we shall face sufferings joyfully and bear them valiantly. Thinking in the heart will steel and strengthen us to bear mortification of body and soul in as joyous a way as possible, but always from the motive of love of Jesus. Pain and sorrow help us to make more room for Jesus to live in us. If we get into the habit of looking upon crosses as the means of substituting our beloved Jesus with His infinite perfections for our worthless selves, we shall grow to love them and become more joyous and courageous in carrying them. To practise mortification means to become Christ-like, to come closer to perfect union with Jesus. This is the thought which ought to animate and strengthen our desire for continual self-effacement. To die to self is not to die, but to be born again to live in God.

– Monsignor John T. McMahon, M.A., Ph.D., Australian Catholic Truth Society, 1957