I, Paul, formerly Saul, take oath and solemnly declare that:
- The gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin;
- I did not receive the said gospel from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
- My earlier life was passed-on in Judaism; during which time, I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it.
- I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.
- A time came, when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles.
- Upon receiving the said revelation, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
- After three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days.
- During my stay with Cephas, I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother.
- Among the members of the church of God, it was said of me: “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.”
- The said members of the church of God gave glory to God on account of me.
- All the information hereinabove contained is the truth; I do not lie!
How beautiful, this!
Friends, we too, like Paul, have a story to tell. A beautiful and equally important story! Take this time and permit yourself to be led by the grace of God into the inner recesses of your soul. In all sincerity, honesty and openness, seek to interrogate your journey through time…how has it been? What is your story? Tell it – in your own words!
Now, allow God to draw the praise and glory that are his due, from whatever circumstances may have characterized your present or your past situations! Always remember that our lives unfold according to the good pleasure of God’s will, “to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1: 6)
“… For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”
What we have here is a bold statement from St. Paul – the kind that makes one wonder whether, in making this assertion, St Paul was in fact unaware that precisely inherent in sin, is the characteristic that estranges man from God. By the disobedience (sin) of our first parents - Adam and Eve - the bond of communion between themselves and God was effectively severed.
God himself, through the mouth of His prophet Isaiah, as if cementing this position spoke in all eloquence: “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that He does not hear.” (Is. 59: 2).
What then are we to make of St. Paul’s statement (above)?
I would propose for our consideration that out of full awareness of the effects of sin - particularly, sin’s capacity and ability to cause a rift between God and man - did he actually so boldly speak; the intended understanding of the statement (in my view) being that no external element, whatever (although it had the potential so to do) could be the cause of the severance of the relationship of love between God and man.
Could this really be a correct position to adopt, you ask, given our knowledge and understanding – founded on the truth contained in scripture – that all men have sinned and are therefore deprived of the glory of God; or even, the reality of our human weakness and frailty, well attested to and given expression by the same apostle – St. Paul – when in the same letter to the Romans (Rom 7:19) he says” “for I do not do the good that I want but the evil that I don want is what I do.”
His awareness notwithstanding, scripture also lets us in on the truth that St. Paul spared no effort in his resolve to lead a holy and upright life: “I discipline my body and subdue it” he says, “lest in preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
Are we to assume then that at the point in time when St. Paul made the statement under our consideration, he had attained such perfect mastery of self and environment as to be rendered unaffected by their influence? Not at all! For scripture says that even the just man falls seven times a day; but was he united with God? Most certainly! “How?” you ask:
There are two degrees of union with God. The first [which belongs and is available only to God – and in this case, the God-man, Jesus Christ] and wholly perfect degree of union is achieved through complete and perfect abstention from every sin. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus, our High Priest, was tempted in every way, but without sin; we see this practically played out in the Lord’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane – he struggled against sin (the great temptation of doing his will as opposed to doing the Father’s will) to the point of sweating blood.
The other degree of union with God which is possible and therefore available to human beings here on earth (to you and to me and to St. Paul – during his time in the body) is that which is brought about by the action of God’s unfettered love - his mercy - on a repentant soul – hence the Lord’s invitation through his prophet: “come now let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool.” (Is. 1: 18)
A meditation on the revelations of the Lord’s merciful love led St. Therese of the Child Jesus to say: “it is not merely because I have been preserved from mortal sin that I lift up my heart to god in trust and love. I am certain that even if I had on my conscience every imaginable crime, I should lose nothing of my confidence, but I would throw myself, heartbroken with sorrow into the arms of my saviour. I remember his love for the prodigal son; I have his word to Mary Magdalene and to the woman of Samaria. No there is no one who would frighten me, for I know too well what to believe concerning his mercy and his love.”
Granted, and it is true, through sin, man’s relationship with God is broken; what is equally, if not more true, is the reality that through God’s gracious love, revealed to us in the Sacred Heart of his divine son, Jesus, the severed bond of communion is restored. It follows therefore, that while sin is a great evil, an even greater tragedy would be for one to persist in a state of sin, that is, to stubbornly resist the loving invitation to have recourse to God's mercy made available to us in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
To the extent then, that God’s love is understood as his mercy in action, we can emphatically assert with St Paul, that nothing – indeed not even sin – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord!
The Sound of the Lord goes forth; his invitation, from generation to generation: “Do this in memory of me.” (Lk. 22: 19)
Do you not perceive the keen vibrations; the fine waves of his tender voice making their way and gently knocking on the door of your heart? Step forward then, reach out and with eager boldness, lovingly turn the knob.
By the unerring action of the grace of docility, the tiny crack on the door of an open heart is facilitated. In steady progression, the opening grows and soon every barrier gives way. The open heart now stands bare, in full view of the divine eye; the bright splendor of the Lord’s presence enfolds it and as the heart learns to submissively yield to the Lord’s endearingly beckoning, he leads it deeper yet into the immense waters of his truth; it is inevitably caught up in the warm embrace of the pure flame of love.
This is the first of three steps along the journey to a flourishing Eucharistic life: eager receptiveness and docility to the Word of God.
The second step is ushered in by the question: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk. 10: 38). It is an invitation to participation, even after the assertion of St. Paul: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ; and the loaf of bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10: 16 – 17).
We do well then, to take up this gracious invitation made out to us by the Lord. By our acceptance thereby, we effectively agree to be continually made sharers and participants in the Lord, Jesus’ perfect sacrifice to the Father until we attain our ultimate goal: complete identification with the Lord. In this blessed state we may then be able to say with St. Paul: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2: 20). Has not Christ taught us that it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher; and the servant to be like his master? (See Matthew 10: 25)
“You give them something to eat.” (Mt. 14: 16) Jesus said to his disciples on one occasion, concerning a colossal host of hungry people…we are Christ’s disciples of this present age and these words may very well be addressed to us. Let us pray to the Lord, Jesus, who in the Eucharist hands himself over to be broken, to become the food of men:
Lord Jesus, give us the faith and strength to die to ourselves, in order to become a harvest for you, so that you may continue through us, to give life to men.
... Behold, here the home of God is with mortals! (Rev. 21:3)
About whom does the scripture speak thus?
About him who loves the Son of God. We have in mind here, a living love; one characterized by the keeping of the word of Christ – the word of God. Upon such a one, the love of the Father rests … and who would not want to be the enviable object of God’s endearing love!
Now, this exalted state marks the ultimate destination of a journey whose very beginnings are set in love itself; for how can anyone begin to love who has not himself experienced love! In this regard, St John graces us with his all-edifying assertion thus: “In this is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us…” (1Jn. 4:10) God loved us first; this love impelled him to send his Son – his only begotten Son - to be expiation for our sins. Now, this is an unmistakable demonstration of one component of God’s multi-faceted love for us. We speak of a purely gratuitous love; a love, which properly speaking, is unwarranted.
What this recognition does, is engender within the soul a keen awareness and a concrete conviction of the reality of being loved. As can be proximately expected, this consciousness, come to full maturity, gives rise to a natural after-effect that is characterized by bubbly vitality; it evokes within the soul in question, by way of lively responsiveness, such warm feelings of reciprocity!
What character does this reciprocity assume? Surely, it is common knowledge that deep waters cannot quench love! (Sng. 8:7). Love as of necessity can only be sated by love. We respond to God’s love by loving the Son whom he has sent; and loving the Son consists in this: true ‘circumcision’ – not of the flesh, but rather, of the heart and the mind – that is, the deliberate keeping of his word.
This loving response to God’s love for us ushers in yet another dynamic of God ‘ever-new’ love: “If a man loves me,” says the Lord, Jesus, “my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (Jn 14: 23).
Now, from the exchange of the perfect love between the Father and the Son (who have now made their dwelling in the souls that love) emanates the ineffable; infinitely inexpressible ecstatic love of God – the Holy Spirit, even in accord with St. Paul’s assertion: “… The love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Rom. 5:5).
He (the Holy Spirit) it is who is our counselor; he it is who is our light; he it is who is our instructor – our teacher … has not the scripture said: “they shall all be taught by God”? (Jn. 6:45)
True to his nature, the Holy Spirit speaks the language of love and it is thus, by gentle bands of love, that he will draw us to God.
Love, therefore, as a process, has as its definitive end the deification of man – man is progressively transformed into love by Love himself – God is love.
How good and how pleasant it would be if we all were to heedfully draw encouragement from these spiritual realities and generously - without reserve – yield our hearts to the transformative action of the love of God! Then will we be borne aloft by this love; then will we be facilitated to break free from the chains that hold us back and so be enabled to courageously step forward and advance – with hearts unfettered – into the freedom of the children if God.
And oh, what magnificent peace this portends! Even the peace of God himself! “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” (Jn. 14:27). Such is the reward for the souls who, trustingly and ungrudgingly give themselves over to God in love! This could be you!
“…a new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also must love one another.” (Jn. 13:34)
“…even as I have loved you…” That Jesus has loved us is not in contention however, to establish the quality and extent of this love, we need to ask the question: ‘how has Jesus loved us? How has he loved you; how has he loved me?’