At the end of St. Paul’s life, he feels all alone. Many friends have left him, others have betrayed him. He is imprisoned for publicly expressing his beliefs and urging others to believe. He will end his life dying for the faith, a martyr.
Many of us know the feeling of being betrayed by someone we trusted. It leaves us feeling lonely and sad, often angry. And we are angry at the betrayer, but also at ourselves for ever having trusted, I think. That can turn to bitterness, the anger. But Paul is not angry. He remains loving toward his fellowman and trusting of his God.
It’s inspiring, and humbling. In this current time where we find ourselves, it’s incredible to see that model of Christian faith and love. These days everyone is so quick to use the word “hate” toward others who disagree with them on various issues, especially social issues. I don’t hate anyone. I hate the sin that some have committed. I hate my own sin. We all should. In the bright light, some might say the blinding light, of God’s love for us, every little transgression can be seen in all its ugliness.
But at a time when the word “sin” is barely heard because we are hard pressed to find anyone who believes in a God who expects certain behaviors from us and where an individual’s “values” have replaced universal understanding of right and wrong, it’s hard to talk about hating sin, a transgression against the Almighty God. Who?
Yes, even a belief in God is becoming a rare thing in our culture. I believe I have evidence of the existence of God in my life, and I have seen His effects in the lives of so many others. But there are some who must have things measured and ‘proved’ in scientific ways that just cannot be done where our faith in God is concerned. It’s more about relationship with God and less about a “supreme being.” Yes, God is the Creator of the Universe, but He is not one being among many. He is the act of being itself, according to St. Thomas Aquinas.
And according to Jesus Christ, He’s our Father. That huge digression brings me back to a faith that is so vivid and powerful that Paul could die for it. Maybe it’s because Paul actually saw Jesus on the road and was overcome with the blinding light that threw him from his horse. And then that Jesus asked him why he was persecuting Jesus Himself. Paul was persecuting Christians, but Jesus referred to Himself when He questioned Paul about his vile behavior. That makes me feel supremely loved. It’s like a big brother saying, “You mess with my kid sister, you mess with me.” And, even more, the believers in Christ are part of the mystical Body of Christ. We are Him and He is us. We are one living organism. When one is injured, everyone is damaged somehow, diminishing the health of the whole.
Jesus cannot be physically injured any longer thankfully; He received enough of that when in His passion and death, but He can weep when we weep, and rejoice when we do. He was broken, one could say beautifully broken, because all of His self-emptying was for the sake of everyone else. And St. Paul, as well, was beautifully broken, for the sake of his brothers and sisters in Christ. He looked forward in hope for that crown that awaited him, the victor’s crown. He knew in his deepest heart that his suffering had a purpose, just as ours can. He mentions in this 2nd Letter to Timothy that at times he had no defenders, just as Jesus had none. Only false accusers. I urge you to read the Scripture passage that is the title of this entry.
To suffer for the sake of another is to be self-giving, emptying oneself out, holding nothing back, like a clay bowl or pot that is broken. It can hold nothing; it can only pour out. But that outpouring, done out of love for others, gives life, eternal life, to another. It is Christlike and it is beautiful.