Filled with Christ
In preparation for the next year, which our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has indicated that we should dedicate to Saint Paul, it might be more than useful for us carefully and prayerfully to read over in the coming months the Pauline corpus in the New Testament, that is, the Epistles which he wrote, as well as the accounts about him that Saint Luke relates in the Acts of the Apostles. In doing this we are bound to be struck by the way Christ overwhelmed Saint Paul in the entirety of his thoughts, and how our Savior became the driving force for the totality of Paul's life and labor.
From the moment of Saul's conversion, "while he was still breathing threats of slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts of the Apostles 9:1), and when, after he was knocked to the ground on his way to Damascus, he asked the mysterious voice which he heard from the midst of the bright light, "Who are you, Lord?", and he heard the reply, "I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting", Jesus Christ become and remained his everything. From that moment on to the end of his life, he proclaimed, "The things that were gain to me for the sake of Christ I have counted as loss. Nay more, I count everything as loss because of the excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord. For His sake I have undergone the loss of all things and I count them as dung, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him…." (Philippians 3:7-9).
The grace of God effected Saul's conversion into Paul the Apostle, but afterwards some of the "egg shells" from his previous life evidently and sometimes unfortunately still clung to him, his vehemence being one of them. In that letter to the Philippians he is found using a rather vulgar Greek word "skubala," which Saint Jerome translated into the Latin word "stercora," and which we, as politely as possible, translate into English as "dung" or "manure."
His love for Jesus Christ, Who had arranged by divine grace his conversion from persecutor of the Catholic Church into Apostle, took over Saint Paul's whole life and drove him to the most extraordinary sacrifices and efforts to bring Jesus and His Gospel to the world. He strove to put into himself the very personality of the Lord. "With Christ I am nailed to the cross. It is now no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:19-20). For the promotion of Christ's Body "which is the Church", Saint Paul said that he freely was filling up in his own flesh by his sufferings "what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" (Colossians 1:24), that is, the distribution to all of mankind of that perfect and complete salvation and redemption which Christ won for the human race by His death and resurrection. Paul longed to die and be with Christ, saying that was his deepest desire and would be a far better lot than to continue to live. However, he knew that he must be patient and continue on earth to suffer and toil for Christ. "Whatever happens, Christ will be glorified in my body, whether in life or through death, for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:20-23).
A cursory glance at Saint Paul's writings shows the total pre-eminence of Jesus in all his thoughts and teaching. Sometimes he incorporated into his Epistles fragments of what scholars guess were early Christian hymns about Christ. For instance, he writes about Him, "He was manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit, appeared to angels, was preached to the nations, was believed in the world, and was taken up into glory" (1 Timothy 3:16). Or again he writes, "at the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue should profess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11). Or again he proclaims that Jesus "is the Image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of every creature. For in Him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth, things both visible and invisible. For it has pleased God the Father that in Him all His fullness should dwell and that through Him He should reconcile to Himself all things, whether on the earth or in the heavens, making peace through the Blood of His cross" (Colossians 1:15-20).
After his conversion, Saint Paul always acknowledged that God, from before his birth, had His eye on him and had predestined him to be a vehicle and special channel of divine grace. "….it pleased Him Who from my mother's womb set me apart and called me by His grace to reveal His Son to me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…" God suddenly and unexpectedly "laid hold of him" (Philippians 3:12). God pounced on him and took possession of him.
After the astonishing miracle that happened to him on the road to Damascus, Saint Paul, after asking what he was supposed to do, was told by Jesus to go into Damascus and await further instructions. He was led by his companions to the house of a certain Judas, who might have been some kind of inn keeper. The house was located on a street called "Straight" (Acts of the Apostles 9:11). That street still exists in Damascus and crosses the entire city from east to west. There Saul (or Paul) did not eat nor drink anything for three days, but only prayed, until a certain Ananias, (who was "an observer of the Law respected by all the Jews who lived there" – Acts of the Apostles 22:12), was told by Jesus in a vision to go and cure and baptize "a man of Tarsus named Saul". Ananias was very reluctant because of Saul's reputation as a hater and persecutor of the Church, but Jesus told him "Go, for this man is a chosen vessel for Me to carry My Name among the nations and before kings and the children of Israel. For I wish to show him how much he must suffer for My Name" (Acts of the Apostles 9:10-19).
Ananias, (who most likely was a priest), laid his hands on Saul and his blindness was immediately cured. Then he baptized him, incorporating him into Christ's death and resurrection (Romans 6:4-10) and into our Redeemer's Catholic Church. Saint Luke then notes that Saint Paul took some food and regained the strength he had lost through his three days of fasting. (Saint Luke probably contrasts this ending of Paul's pre-baptism fast with the brutal vow he reported that was later made by Saint Paul's Jewish enemies not to eat or drink anything until they had killed him – Acts of the Apostles 23:12-13).
Saint Paul seems to have lost no time after his baptism before he immediately began to share and spread his new found faith among others, beginning with some of the local Jews in their Damascus synagogues (Acts of the Apostles 9:19-23). However, as he would throughout the rest of his life, he aroused ferocious and deadly opposition on their part by his proclamation of the Gospel. However, he remained fearless and undeterred. Saint Paul, pray for us!