So, what about us? Do we know this love of Jesus and the Father? Is it so real for us, so life changing that it spurs us on to share the Gospel, endure any trial and accept any rejection or persecution?
The early Church Father, St. John Chrysostom, had a great deal of respect and appreciation for the accomplishments of St. Paul. He spoke eloquently of Paul in a homily he delivered as a reflection on Paul’s Letters. Here is what he wrote when referring to Paul.
Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he reached up with greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that faced him. He summed up his attitude the words:
“Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13).
This encouragement to look ahead and forget what is behind is critically important in the spiritual life. Too many people want to live in the past, whether to relive past hurts and injustices, or they desire to have things the way they were in the good old days. Neither of these is a sound approach for growing in holiness. We experience pain in life, and we have desires to return to when things were better in our lives. Paul certainly knew about the hard times, as St. John Chrysostom wrote. And we can well imagine Paul might have wanted to return to his own ‘good ole days.’
Paul wrote about what he suffered in this Letter to the Corinthians:
“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).
But St. Chrysostom saw the deeper meaning in Paul’s experience of suffering, “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. The most important thing of all to him, however, is that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself to be happier than anyone else.“
That is it, that is the secret of Paul’s remarkable accomplishments. Knowing Jesus loved him allowed him to overcome the sufferings and persecutions he experienced; it is what transformed this one-time persecutor of the faith of Christ into its most powerful voice.
Prayer offers us many benefits. Through it God can change our temporal and material circumstances; through prayer we can slowly be transformed into the persons God calls us to be. But in the end, prayer’s ultimate gift is to confirm us in the reality that we are children of God, and that our Father, the Creator of the Universe, and His Son our Savior, are madly in love with us.
So, what about us? Do we know this love of Jesus and the Father? Is it so real for us, so life changing that it spurs us on to share the Gospel, endure any trial and accept any rejection or persecution? In short, have we experienced Christ’s love to such a degree that we are willing to say with Paul:
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).
This is only possible when we truly come to understand the words of the Apostle John; words we must not merely read, but must experience in the deepest center of our being.
“See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).
Pray this week that we might all come to experience at least some measure of what John is writing about, and that through this experience, we might begin to have the courage, strength, endurance and confidence of Paul.
Copyright © by Mark Danis
Image credit: “The Conversion of St. Paul” (detail) by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons