|"I am imitating Paul as he imitates Christ."|
Blessed Alberione, 1923
St. Paul was a gifted organizer of disciples for the apostolate. He created a wonderful network of bishops and priests in the missions he founded along the path of his voyages: a network of holy pastors. Before going to Jerusalem where his enemies were lying in wait for him, he wanted to leave a legacy for the bishops and priests of Miletus belonging to the jurisdiction of Ephesus. He gave them some words in testament:
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has constituted you overseers to shepherd the church of God... Be vigilant, and remember that for three years I did not cease day and night to admonish each of you with tears. Now I commend you to God. (Acts 20:28, 31-32)Saying this, St Paul knelt and prayed with all of them, and great was the weeping of all those venerable bishops and priests who threw themselves at Paul's neck and kissed him. Saint Paul possessed the soul and heart of his disciples.
We know the name of a good number of St. Paul's first disciples -- bishops, priests and yes, the very first cooperators! They are our elder brothers: Alexander and Caius who were with Paul and suffered with him in the tumult of Ephesus; Erastus and Sosipater, who accompanied him and worked with him in the mission of Macedonia; Sosthenes and Tertius, his loyal secretaries who transcribed Paul's dictation of the letters to the Corinthians and to the Romans. We also know of Tychicus and Tydricus, who carried and explained the letters to the Ephesians, the Colossians, and the Philippians; Silas, a Christian of Antioch; and Apollo, an eloquent man and versed in the Sacred. Dionysius the Areopagite was converted through the preaching of Paul and became the first bishop of Athens and Paris. Philemon offered St. Paul hospitality, and Aristarcus accompanied him in the prison in Rome. All of these were St. Paul's coworkers in the apostolate.
In his letters Paul affectionately remembers other cooperators: the beloved Epaenetus, first fruits of Asia; the very dear Ampliatus; Urbanus, who worked with him; Stachi, beloved to him; Apelle who gave proof of his fidelity to Jesus Christ; Rufus, an elect in the Lord; Asyncritus, Flegonte, Erma, Patroba, Erme, Dema, Filologus, Erodione, and Lucia. He remembers Jason and his relatives: Quartus, Zema, and Artemas. And Stephen, who had consecrated himself to the service of the poor Christians; Stefana, Fortunatus and Achaius, first fruits of the church of Achaia who carried from Ephesus the first letter that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. His coworkers restored his spirit so often, including Linus, the first successor of St. Peter; Onesiforus of Ephesus, who was not ashamed of the chains of his master; Onesimus, an unfaithful slave who converted and later became the bishop of Colossi; and Epafra, servant of Jesus Christ who continually agonized in prayers for his brothers.
St. Paul remembers to the edification of other Christians Aquila and his wife Priscilla, baptized by him who then went on to help him establish the church of Corinth. He received help from Andronicus, his wife Giunia and their relatives, illustrious among the apostles as well as his companions in imprisonment; the senator Pudens and his wife Claudia, who worked with Peter and Paul in the evangelization of the Romans.
However, three especially were the disciples of St. Paul whom he loved with a love of predilection and cared for with singular tenderness and formed in the smallest details. To them he entrusted the most delicate tasks and gave special authority in his churches and among the other disciples. More than any others, they got his spirit and were his most faithful friends and cooperators. They are: Timothy, saint, martyr, and bishop of Ephesus; Titus, saint, confessor, and bishop of Crete; and Luke, saint, evangelist, and bishop of Philippi.
St. Luke was a physician. He wrote the third Gospel, the Gospel preached by St. Paul, the Gospel of the Gentiles and of the mercy of God. He wrote the Acts of the Apostles that are a most beautiful biography of St. Paul, inspired and dictated by the Holy Spirit. St. Paul writes: "In Troas my spirit was restless, because I did not find my brother Titus. But God who consoles the humble made me find him in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:13.)" St. Timothy was especially dear to St. Paul for his fidelity. Because of this the Apostle had him close to him most of the time, as a father with his son. He has him as companion in his preaching, travails and imprisonments. St. Paul calls him his beloved and his very dear one, a man of God, faithful to the Lord. And of him he writes: "I have no other like him that shares so well my sentiments and loves you with the most sincere affection. Know that he has helped me in the gospel as a son his father (Philippians 2:22.)"
The eye and the apostolic heart of St. Paul also led him to give to his mission those helpers that we say are the first "daughters of St. Paul." He recalls Eunice, the mother of Timothy, and his grandmother Lois. He recalls the mother of Rufus, who had for him the care of a mother. He tells the Romans to greet Mary who bore much hard work for the Lord; Trifena and Trifosa who spent themselves so much for the Church; Perside, beloved in the Lord, Julia and Olimpia, sisters of the saints. To Phoebe, the sister who served the Church of Cencre, he gave the task of bringing the letter to the Romans; Lydia of Thyatira, a dealer of purple in Philippi, offered hospitality to St. Paul and to his disciples after her conversion. Apphia, Philemon's wife and a very dear sister, gave hospitality to St. Paul in Colossi.
St. Paul succeeded wonderfully as he formed his disciples and his first daughters. His care for them was affectionate and attentive. He wrote to them often, Bishops, Priests or cooperators, housewives or deaconesses, widows or virgins. He admonished, prayed night and day with tears, gave out practical and effective rules of life, led by example.
The disciples were the garden that he cultivated with the exquisiteness and finesse of love. They were also his peace.
Oh, if we could place at the service of God many lay persons! Can you have cooperators in this apostolate? Certainly, and you must get to this. To have the help of parish priests, and kind believers who know, who diffuse the Word. Therefore, take good care of the cooperators and may such care become more and more wise. It would be important and useful to have a little center in every parish. Can you have it done by others? Oh, if we could place at the service of God many lay persons! It would be a great glory to God and a contribution for the salvation of souls. - Blessed Alberione to the Sister Disciples on the Pauline laity; Opera Omnia
Sr. Margaret Kerry, FSP, celebrates 40 years of life and mission as a Daughter of St. Paul. With a Masters from Boston College School of Theology & Ministry, she gives presentations on the vocation and mission of the laity, media literacy, and evangelization. She directed the Association of Pauline Cooperators for 15 years and was creative editor of The Pauline Cooperator magazine. An author (St. Anthony of Padua: Fire & Light; Strength in Darkness: John of the Cross), Sr. Margaret is working on a young adult book. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.