The Calling of St Paul

Sunday, 25th January 2022: On the feast of the conversion of St Paul, a reflection on the need of a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ to evangelize. See its text under the video …

MUR GĦAL-LISTA SĦIĦA TAT-TAĦDIDIET TA’ FR HAYDEN

Peace be with you brothers and sisters in the Lord. Today as we celebrate the feast of what we called the conversion of St Paul, I would like to share with you some brief reflections which are very dear to me, which I received in my heart as these days I was praying preparing myself in a particular way for this feast.

We know that in the Acts of the Apostles there are at least three times where Paul recounts his direct experience with Christ. We also have insights into that particular experience that Paul had in his letters. I would like to pinpoint the way Paul relates, recounts his experience with Christ in his Letter to the Galatians. In that letter, Paul doesn’t go into very much detail about what happened on the way to Damascus as we find it in Acts Chapter 9 or in Acts 26 and elsewhere, but very simply listen to what Paul says:

“But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the gentiles.” (Galatians 1: 15-16)

So Paul doesn’t speak so much at this moment of that experience as a conversion experience, but as a calling. I would like you to understand why Paul sees it in that way. Paul, like the prophets in the Old Testament, gives the basis, the authenticity of his message, the Divine calling itself. In the books of the Old Testament prophets, in the books of such prophets as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, in all of them, nearly at the beginning of each book, you would find their calling. Their Divine calling gives them the reason why they are prophets and why the people should believe their message. So their calling is the basis of the authenticity of their prophecy.

Paul here is doing something very similar. Why? Because in the Church and the community of Galatia to which he is writing this Letter, after some time of preaching, false teachers, false evangelists, infiltrated in the Church and started to dictate, to preach a false Gospel, not the true Gospel that Paul was preaching. And Paul distinguishes between two kinds of Gospel: the Human Gospel and the Divine Gospel. A Gospel that has its origin in God himself and a Gospel that has its origin in man and not in God.

Now, what was this false Gospel that was being preached? It was that we need circumcision in order to be saved, whereas Paul was preaching justification and true faith in Jesus Christ, without any need to observe what the works of the law dictate, including circumcision. Paul was very much adamant on this. This would cost Paul to go to prison; it would cost him his martyrdom.  We can follow the whole trail of what happened to him because he was opposed to this preaching. Paul always insisted that this was the true Gospel.  We are saved through grace. It is the Gospel of grace that he preaches.

But from where does he get this grace? How was he so convinced when he wasn’t one of the twelve. He didn’t see Jesus in the flesh, as Peter and the other Apostles did, and yet Paul had this deep experience of Jesus, which convinced him so much of the truth of what he was preaching. He preached the Gospel of grace because he experienced this grace within him, because he knew he was not worthy, he knew he wanted to destroy the Church, he wanted to destroy the truth — the real Gospel. But what happens? Christ had chosen him from his mother’s womb, as the prophet says. Jeremiah too felt that he was chosen from his mother’s womb. Christ revealed himself to him. God the Father revealed Christ to him.

It’s very important that Paul says that Christ, the Person of Christ, was revealed to him. How much we all need and yearn for, dear brothers and sisters, this personal encounter with the Lord, especially those of us who are called to evangelise, to be in a ministry nowadays. When Paul says that Christ is revealed to him or to me, he uses the Greek word Anemoi. It could also be translated not “revealed to me” but “revealed in me”. Let’s not make so much fuss about this distinction. What it shows is that something very deep was happening within Paul. We don’t only need a revelation of Christ to us, but also a revelation of Christ in us. Paul speaks so much about this presence of Christ in us. It means that Paul is being completely taken up by the person of Jesus.

On today’s feast, I would like that all of us, my brothers and sisters in the Lord, would pray for every Christian, especially for all those involved in preaching, in evangelisation, that they will have this deep encounter with Jesus, deep within their hearts, deep within their spirit, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Without this encounter with Christ there can never be real Evangelisation. We cannot announce Christ in truth, Christ with a passion, Christ in a tangible way, Christ in a powerful way, if we haven’t met him, if we haven’t experienced him, unless we have had this one-to-one encounter with him.

Now, this doesn’t depend on ourselves. We have to open our hearts to him. Paul wasn’t expecting it: Christ went to him, Christ reached out for him, at the least expected moment, when he was on his way to persecute the Church. He was persecuting Christ as Christ himself told him, but while this happened unexpectedly for Saul, for God it did not. He found him even in his darkest hour of his life. Paul thought that he was succeeding, but in fact he was not having any success. Jesus found him on his way.

Let us ask the Lord that He will find each and every Evangelist, each and every person called to preach the Gospel nowadays and give them this intimate experience of his presence in their lives. But this was not only a Divine initiative. I’d love to think that what happened to Paul in the early Church was also the result of the fervent prayers of the Church. Why? Because we all know that Paul persecuted the Church. Paul was present when they stoned Stephen: he kept their clothes. The early Church surely must have done what Jesus told us in the Gospel:

“Pray for those who persecuted you.” (Matthew 5:44)

I truly believe that this experience was also God’s answer to the prayers of the Church.

God’s revelation of Christ to Paul was also an answer to the prayers of the Church for Paul. Now, imagine if nowadays all of us would pray for those who are persecuting the Gospel, those who are persecuting Christ, those who are persecuting the Church, both within the Church and outside of it. You know, we are real Christians who live in the Holy Spirit and we have no enemies. We only have brothers and sisters, even if sometimes there are deep clashes even within the Christian community. But if we pray, we truly pray for each other, we will make room for Christ, we will give space to Christ, we will allow Jesus to intervene once again in His own way.

We needn’t have always these special supernatural revelations as Paul had. But the Lord will find ways and means how He will provide for us with direct encounters with Him. And I insist that these are direct encounters with Him because Jesus is alive. Jesus can be experienced nowadays. Jesus can literally be experienced as John says in his First Letter:

“He whom we have listened to, we have seen Him, touched Him.” (1 John 1: 1)

I mean it all implies a tangible experience of Jesus. But let us be open to it. Not just for ourselves. Let us believe that this could be possible, even for those who are killing Christians nowadays. Even nowadays Christ can raise up new Pauls in our life, in the life of the Church. Both from within the Church and from outside the Church. Let us have this great hope that Christ’s mercy is so great, that He can raise up new Evangelists in our times. Even those who might not be the most likely candidates; but the Lord can make good use of them.

You know that on this feast my heart is full on fire because Paul receives a revelation of Jesus, not just for himself, not for him to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not for him to say “I have met the Lord”, but to announce Christ to the Gentiles. That’s what Paul says. He revealed: ”Christ was revealed to me so that I need to preach Him.”

You know, nobody can meet Jesus and keep Jesus for himself. The moment that we meet Him, we start evangelising, we start spreading the Good News. And what is the Good News? You don’t need to be a theologian or Biblical scholar to preach. Share with others what Jesus is doing in your life. You know, if nowadays we aren’t evangelising a lot, if some of us are not evangelising, we should be asking what’s happening to our encounter with Jesus. You know, because we can attend Mass, we can pray. But is our prayers a genuine encounter with the Lord? Because if we are encountering Him, something would change within us, something will burn within us like it happened to the Disciples of Emmaus and we want to speak to the whole world about who Jesus is and what He’s doing in our lives.

I want to encourage all of you, dear brothers and sisters. Some of you might have had this special encounter with the Lord, some of you might have had it years ago. I wouldn’t say centuries ago, but it could be some many years ago, some might have had it a few years ago, for some it might be more recent. Some might be longing and desiring for it.

Let us be grateful for all of us who have received this grace. I’m sure that the majority of us would have received it, but I would like to ask all those who have received this grace, but are not making use of it and are not evangelizing, but are keeping it to themselves. Jesus wasn’t revealed to you to keep Him to yourself, so that you would go happy to Heaven alone. He wants to use you to take others to Heaven by speaking about Jesus to their lives.

One final thing: you know, Paul’s mission was to preach about Jesus, was to talk about Jesus, to what the Father did for the whole of humanity through Jesus Christ. You know, the Church stands for Jesus. The Church can take care of the planet, can take care of the poor, can do a lot of good things. But the most important thing, that everything flows from, is the proclamation of Jesus. He’s the only Lord and Saviour in our lives. This is within the context that everything else has to come in and to enter and we do it passionately for Christ, in Christ, through Christ and by announcing Christ in everything that we do.

So, brother and sisters, lets allow today’s feast to set us all on fire, to set us all in a greater enthusiasm and lets us launch out into the deep to preach Jesus once again in a passionate way. So that the Lord might know, so that the world might know how much God loves each and everyone of us.

May God bless you all. Keep me in your prayers and I will pray for you. God bless!

MUR GĦAL-LISTA SĦIĦA TAT-TAĦDIDIET TA’ FR HAYDEN

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