“May I never boast of anything but the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Gal 6:14
In the history of our Church, no man stands out more clearly as a zealot and role model, than does St. Paul, the Apostle. The Church as we know it today, the Church of the Gentiles, would not exist were it not for the unceasing pursuit of Paul to bring the Gospel to the four corners of the earth. He took to heart, Jesus’ command, “Go into the whole world, and proclaim the good news to all creation. “
Paul has always impressed us by his singleness of purpose, his unflinching courage, his relentless drive, and his ability to stir men’s hearts, whether by his public speaking, or by his writings. Luke has chronicled the experiences of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. They read like tales of high adventure. Paul’s letters have inspired the greatest minds of our Church, including, but not limited to St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony, St. John of the Cross, and St. Teresa of Avila. Read about any of the great Saints; you’ll find the teachings of Paul. Of all the Apostles, for us, he is the most touchable, the most approachable, the most identifiable. From this, you can gather that we are great fans of St. Paul.
We feel very close to Paul. Although we are born Catholics, we consider ourselves converts, or rather, we are converting. It’s a never-ending process. When we first came back to the Church, we were overwhelmed by all the exciting people and things she had to offer. We were like kids in a candy store. There was so much more than we could absorb; so we didn’t key into Paul, and his powerful role in the Church, right away. It wasn’t until our first pilgrimage to Rome that we met Paul in a very personal way.
I think it’s important for all of us, just once in our lives, to go to the places of the Saints, so that we can soak up their spirit, which never leaves these areas. There is such a strong sense of the Saints at their shrines. It permeates your skin, and goes deep into your soul.
That’s what happened when we went to the Church of St. Paul Outside the Walls, in Rome. Paul was martyred in this area. After the Church was legitimized by Constantine, his bones were brought back to this spot, to be his final resting place. When we walked through the gates of the courtyard, a formidable statue of St. Paul loomed high above us. He wielded a huge sword ; he stared deep into our souls. He was so strong! We asked our guide why he was buried outside the city walls. The guide raised himself to his full five feet, two inches, and proclaimed, “It was his right as a Roman citizen, Signor. The Christians were fed to the lions in the Colosseum during the persecution. But Paul was allowed to die outside the city walls with dignity, as was his birthright.” That didn’t make any sense. He was a Pharisee from the Holy Land, as best we knew. He was converted in Damascus, knocked down off his high horse, so to speak. How did he get to be a Roman citizen?
Then we went to the Mamertine Prison in Rome. This was Paul’s home prior to his death. We walked down, deep into the dark, damp hole of the cave, There was a dim light from a bare 30 watt bulb, dangling from the ceiling. An exhaust fan made a feeble attempt to suck out the foul-smelling, humid air, which permeated the prison. It was damp and gloomy, a very depressing scene. And that was now, in the twentieth century! We could not begin to imagine how it had been when Paul was imprisoned here. Our priest was well-versed in Scripture, and the historical background of the Gospel. He shared with us the ending of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He shared Paul’s last testimony to Timothy. They are the most touching, uplifting, beautiful letters Paul wrote. And they were written here, in the stinking bowels of the earth. We had never known much about this pioneer and martyr for our Faith, but here in this cell, we came to love him very much.
That’s how they get you, these Saints. You ask a little question; you discover something that doesn’t quite fit in, and the next thing you know, you’re deeply engrossed in the life of the Saint. This is how we began to learn about Paul. We didn’t do it to share with anyone. We were in love with Church. This man was our Church! We had to know more about him. Who was he? What made him turn so completely towards Jesus and the Gospel message, at the height of his persecution of the Church? We know now, why the Lord gave us the gift of being able to search out and study this man. Jesus wants us to know about those who struggled and died for us; He wants us to be proud of our ancestors, and never forget them! He wants us to follow in their footsteps. On that note, we invite you to join us as we share the life of one of the most powerful men our Church has ever known, St. Paul the Apostle.
Paul was born in Tarsus, a port city in the southeastern part of Turkey. He was from a Jewish family, who traced their roots back to the tribe of Benjamin. This Jewish community had been sent to Tarsus during the Diaspora . Pompey had made Tarsus the capital of the province of Cilicia. Mark Anthony gave the people of Tarsus freedom, immunity, and the right to become Roman citizens, which accounts for Paul’s reference to, and pride in, his Roman citizenship. He invoked his rights as a Roman citizen many times during his ministry to get out of some serious scrapes with the Jews.
Paul was originally named Saul, after the first king of the Jews. But the Jews in Tarsus had assimilated so greatly with the Romans that he was probably given the Roman equivalent of Saul, which is Paul, at birth. He was called Paul in public, and Saul among Jewish gatherings. It was not unusual for Jews who had integrated into foreign cultures to take on a Hebrew name, and an ethnic name. He grew up under two cultures, that of his Hebrew ancestors, and the Greco-Roman customs of his adopted country. He was greatly influenced by the Greek background; Greek was a second language to him; he studied Greek philosophers.
Nothing is certain as to when he came to Jerusalem. His whole family moved there when he was a young man. The year 30 A.D. is as good a barometer as it gets. Scripture scholars claim there was little possibility that he ever saw Jesus during His lifetime. There are others who believe that, while he may never have spoken to the Lord, he may have seen Him before His death. Remember, they really frequented the same circles. They were at different ends of the spectrum, but they were both religious men.
Paul was a Pharisee. He studied under Gamaliel for three or four years. This would have been during the time of Jesus’ ministry, 30 to 33 AD. Jesus became very prominent after the arrest and murder of John the Baptist, probably about a year or so into His ministry. The temple area of Jerusalem was always abuzz with rumors about this new Prophet. The personality of Paul was that of a zealot, a nosy body, who had to know everything that was going on, all the time. Also, he was a defender of the Jewish law, which he believed Jesus was breaking. Paul would have agreed with those who considered Jesus a blasphemer and lawbreaker, who should be dealt with accordingly.
We don’t mean to imply for a minute that Paul was ever a vindictive person. He was a passionate person. The Lord can work with people like Paul. His passion was for God. He had committed himself to the service of God. He truly believed he was doing the Lord’s will in stamping out these blasphemers (Christians) . The same firebrand fervor he employed in defending God against the Christians, was put to use in proclaiming our Lord Jesus Christ, after Paul’s conversion. It’s so exciting to see God in action! He chooses His people so carefully. We believe, Paul was part of the Divine Plan from before the beginning of time . He was groomed so well for his part in Salvation history. The area of the world in which he was born, his knowledge of the Greek and Roman languages and cultures, his schooling in Jerusalem, all of this was necessary for his role in proclaiming the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire. We can’t help but see the Lord’s Hand in Paul’s development.
Taken from Bob and Penny Lord’s book Saints and Other Powerful Men in the Church.