Sunday, November 10, 2013

Saint Paul of Tarsus

Before St. Paul the apostle became a zealous follower of Christ, he was the much-feared Jewish Saul of Tarsus, a Roman city in a province of present-day Turkey. Saul was an infamous persecutor of early Christians until his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus. Unthinkable that a staunch believer of Judaism could suddenly turn into a Gentile? Not when Jesus gets into the act. Like when a stroke of lightning blinded him and a thunderous voice boomed from the heavens, “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” Saul shifted directions when his sight returned after a few days. Who wouldn’t? He began to preach the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. The change in him was so radical he preached the gospel even inside synagogues! Clearly, these were Jewish holy territories, definitely off-limits to evangelizing Christians. Paul’s gumption incurred the hatred of his fellow Jews who drove him out of the city. Isn’t it ironic that it was this Jew who had brutally killed early Christians thereby quashing newly-formed groups of budding Christians? The tables have turned, St. Paul was now at the receiving end of relentless persecution. Undaunted, he tirelessly travelled far and wide to spread the Word of God, imbued as ever with missionary fervor. It was then that he journeyed to Jerusalem to give his respects to the head of the Church, St. Peter. His being both a Jew and a Roman citizen influenced Jewish and Roman audiences alike enabling him to form many Christian communities. Returning to Tarsus, he evangelized province mates, converting many to Christianity. In the span of twenty years, St. Paul founded many churches in Asia Minor (now the Middle East) and Europe. Still, the persecution went on. He was imprisoned for his beliefs not once but twice. After his release, he traveled to Spain and the East. Returning to Rome, he was jailed again, this time even chained, until he was beheaded in AD 67. St. Paul the Apostle is one of the most important figures of the Apostolic age. Of the 27 books of the New Testament, he wrote seven epistles. Scholars undisputedly say these are his authentic works. Six others are also attributed to him but this is under argument. Still, seven is a considerable number. Not only that, about half of the Acts of the Apostles is devoted to his life and works. How influential could he be? Rightly so, as he was a deep theological thinker. Endowed with leadership qualities, his hand in the development of Christianity is undeniable. Today, many churches are named in honor of St. Paul the apostle all over the Christian world as well as schools, hospitals, even Catholic printing presses. June 29 is his feast day.


Reflection: St. Paul the apostle’s one-hundred-eighty-degree-turn from persecutor of Christians to indefatigable worker for Christ is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Imagine such a notorious sinner instantly transforming into a saint. If he can do it, then so can ordinary sinners like you and I.

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