Today, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the liturgy invites us, not to look on Paul from a distance, but to share the mystery of his life. So I can say:
“Victor, my grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness.” “God’s grace in me has not been without fruit; it is always at work in me.”
By looking on Paul simply as a distant historical figure or a Christian hero we diminish what we share with him.
Here’s how St. John Chrysostom sees him:
“Paul more than anyone else, shows us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and what we are capable of. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead. When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them.
“ He boasted of constant beatings, abuse and cursing as though he were taking trophies home on a triumphal procession, giving thanks to God for it all. The only thing he really wanted was always to please God.
“He knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers. He preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honored.
“Paul set no store by the things that fill our visible world, any more than someone sets value on the withered grass of the field. As for tyrannical rulers or the people enraged against him, he paid them no more heed than gnats. Death itself and pain and whatever torments might come were but child’s play to him, provided that thereby he might bear some burden for the sake of Christ.”