Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The "Amazing Grace" of St. Paul

Almost seven years ago, June 29, 2008, I officially became a member of the Pauline Family as a Pauline Cooperator. As part of the Family, I have been blessed with many graces–prayers, opportunities to help the sisters with book fairs, retreats, going on a Pauline pilgrimage to Italy, and making new friends, to name only some. An additional blessing has been getting to know the patron of our Family, St. Paul.

Until I started my formation period, my knowledge of St. Paul was that he wrote letters that were in the Bible and were read from the ambo at Mass. However, as I journeyed through formation, I asked myself: Who is St. Paul for me now and how does his life and teaching affect me in my daily life? By studying and learning more about St. Paul, I found that his writings are life lessons. They can help us improve our prayer life, be more patient, understand what real love means, have more patience, humility, etc. They can influence every facet of our humanity.

With the whole Church, the Pauline Family celebrates the solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29. Following the liturgy that was in use when we were founded, we keep a Family tradition on June 30: celebrating a second solemnity in honor of St. Paul. As we approach this feast, I would like to share some of my favorite verses from his letters.

“I want you to know, brothers, that the good news I proclaimed is not a human gospel, for I didn’t  receive it from a man nor was I taught it–I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). Paul’s conversion is probably the most dramatic conversion story in the world. As a former persecutor of Christians, he became passionate about spreading Christianity and turned into the greatest evangelist of the early Church. As Paulines, we also desire to bring others to come to know Christ. A verse from the song, Amazing Grace, comes to mind: “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” St. Paul, who initially could not see for three days after his conversion, begged God to remove the scales from his eyes. Let us also ask God for continual conversion and to give us clear vision to recognize the needs of others. It is through His amazing grace that we have been blessed with so many gifts!

“Then the Lord said to Paul in a vision one night, ‘Don’t be afraid!  Speak and do not be silent, because I’ll be with you and no one will try to harm you’” (Acts18:9-10). Do you ever feel uncomfortable or afraid of speaking about your faith, especially when in the company of people who do not agree with our beliefs?  Sometimes the Lord may lead us to say a word to someone that is uncomfortable. Because of the fear of rejection, we may remain silent. It is a challenge, but St. Paul tells us not to be ashamed or afraid to tell our story. Can you imagine what would have happened if Paul had remained silent? 

“Love is patient, love is kind; it isn’t jealous, doesn’t boast, isn’t arrogant.  Love is not dishonorable, isn’t selfish, isn’t irritable, doesn’t keep a record of past wrongs.  Love doesn’t rejoice at injustice but rejoices in the truth.  Love endures all things, love has complete faith and steadfast hope, love bears with everything” (1Corinthians 13:4-7). We are all familiar with this passage and have probably heard it at almost every wedding ceremony. The word “love” is overused in today’s society and not always in the right way. In this passage, Paul describes what love is and what it isn’t. St. Paul got it right! To truly love as defined by St. Paul is not easy; it is difficult to practice in everyday life. When we are caught up in difficult situations, a reminder of this passage from St. Paul is in order. A beautiful definition of love is expressed in the movie, Les Misérables: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

“Persevere in prayer, stay awake while you pray and be thankful” (Col. 4:2). Paul must have spent a lot of time praying; he writes a lot about prayer in his letters. To develop a deeper relationship with our Lord, I found that I need to be prayerful throughout the entire day. In the book, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a seventeenth century Carmelite friar, teaches us that at any moment and in any circumstance, we can seek the companionship of God–even among the pots and pans! Several years ago I made a commitment to schedule prayer time at the beginning of every day. The prayers may vary; however, I always read the readings of the daily Mass. During this daily quiet time with our Lord, I began to notice that each day I received a message. It could be one word or one verse, but it was always just what I needed to hear that day. Throughout the day, especially in stressful situations, I would recall the message. The result? Calmness and peace fills my soul.

“I want you to be free from anxiety” (1 Cor. 7:32). This is a difficult one to follow with so much going on in our world and in our own homes. From terrorists, earthquakes, illness, loved ones leaving the Church, etc., there is always something to worry about. Why do I become anxious whenever a problem comes up? Why do I worry about things that are out of my control? St. Paul is telling us that part of our life in Christ is to live free of our anxieties. It all comes down to trust and remembering that we have a merciful God.

“But this is why all you who pass judgment on others have no excuse!  For to the extent that you pass judgment on others you condemn yourself, since you who judge do the very same things”  (Rom. 2:1).  In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” St. Paul is teaching us the same lesson. Pope Francis is also well known for his comments on judging. Not judging others and recognizing one’s faults is a requirement of every good Christian. Judging others creates negative thoughts instead of positive ones. When we only find faults with others, we can miss opportunities to meet and interact with people who could actually enrich our lives!

“The Spirit’s fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control) (Gal. 5:22).  What more can be said of this beautiful list of attributes other than they are the ideal characteristics of a Christian? The Daughters of St. Paul commit themselves to live these qualities. They are joy-filled women who I am blessed to have in my life as mentors and friends. A good practice is to review these attributes as an examination of conscience, not only at night, but throughout the day. Have I shown love, patience, kindness, self-control, etc., during difficult situations in my day?

Following the advice of St. Paul is not always easy, but it will help us in our evangelization efforts and strengthen our relationship with God. During one of my formation sessions, I was introduced to the beautiful song, “Fragrance Prayer,” from the collection of prayers by Cardinal Newman and popularized by Tom Booth. The original title of this song was Radiating Christ. It speaks of being a light to others–how very Pauline!  “Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.  Flood my soul with your spirit and life, Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly, that my life may only be a radiance of yours.  Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul.  Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus.”

How are we living the lessons of St. Paul? How are we bringing and radiating Christ to others?  Let us share our story! 

Scripture verses are taken from The New Testament: St. Paul Catholic Edition  (Staten Island: The Society of St. Paul, 2000).
Photos: Roberta Hummel

Maryann Toth has been a Pauline Cooperator for six years. Semi-retired as a credit/AR manager in NJ, she is a wife, a mother of two daughters, and a grandmother of four. She serves as a Eucharistic minister and belongs to a Divine Mercy Cenacle group. Maryann assists at Pauline book fairs and J-Club events, schedules meetings and prayer times for local Cooperators and friends of the Pauline Family, and currently accompanies a candidate in the Cooperator formation program. She participated in a Pauline Cooperator pilgrimage to Italy in 2010. 

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