Monday, September 1, 2014

The Real St. Paul

The famous statue outside St. Peter's Basilica is how we like to think of St. Paul: tall and strong with sword in hand. But that is not what the saint tells us about himself.

In today's first reading he describes himself as coming with three things: astheneia, phobos, and tromos.

tromos - literally trembling, shaky, unsteady.
phobos- fear.
asthenia- weakness. The word is used to refer not only to physical weakness, but mental and moral weakness as well.

Some writers will try and explain that Paul is exaggerating out of a sense of humility. My question is why do we need to do that? Why can we not simply take St. Paul at his word and accept that weak, fearful, and trembling really describe Paul?

The answer was found in yesterday's gospel, when Peter refused to accept that Jesus has to suffer and die. Like Peter we still all too often look at the world through human eyes. In the human view, great leaders cannot be people of weakness and fear. They surely cannot tremble. In a world of television could an FDR be elected today? I don't think so.

St. Paul reminds us again today how we are suppose to be people who look at the world differently. Those areas of weakness in us, the areas of fear in us, are empty places which God can fill with his grace.

As the old saying goes, "Nature abhors a vacuum." We can be full of ourselves or we can be full of Christ. It is a simple binary choice. The paradox of Christianity is that if you want to find yourself, you must lose yourself. If you want to truly know yourself, you must like St. Paul tells us today,

know nothing...except Jesus Christ, and him crucified

Each time our minds turn toward ourselves, our problems, our concerns, our weakness, our fear; we should turn immediately from ourselves to Jesus. Develop that habit, until it becomes a reflex, an immediate response. Then we will know the transforming power of God's grace.