"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Boasting In Weakness

2018 film "Paul, Apostle of Christ," it is a historical drama that portrays the life of the Apostle Paul during the time of his imprisonment in Rome. The movie depicts Paul's interactions with Luke, who visits him in prison and writes down his story as a part of the Acts of the Apostles.

irst, let me talk about the person of St Paul. He is the perfect influencer across two thousand years of Christianity, if I may be allowed to use that term. Karl Barth, a prominent 20th-century Protestant theologian, has emphasized Paul's role in shaping and influencing the early Church. Thank God we have preserved Paul's epistles which are the earliest written texts of the New Testament and address a variety of issues concerning the organization, theology, and practice of the early Christian communities.

Overall, suppose you were to estimate the percentage of all our liturgical readings from Paul's letters in the context of Sunday Masses. In that case, it might be around 20-30% of the total readings, considering that the first reading is usually from the Old Testament, the second reading often from Paul, and the Gospel always from one of the four Gospels.

The second reading on most Sundays and solemnities typically comes from the letters of Paul. This means that almost every Sunday throughout the year features a reading from one of Paul's letters. If you ask who among the apostles helped lay the foundations for what would become the institutional Church, very easily the answer would be St Paul. It would be impossible to specify the exact number of organizations named after St Paul, as they span various sectors including religious institutions, educational institutions, hospitals, charities, non-profits, and more around the world.

Whenever I am down, I think of the person of St Paul. This is what God planned to do the moment he was born in Tarsus (now in modern-day Turkey) and was a Roman citizen, which played a significant role in his life and missionary activities. But is it the person of Paul really who uplifts me when I am down? No. He serves only as a mirror of what we must do ourselves. Paul boasts of a different strength, that is, strength in weakness which led him always towards total reliance on God. He wanted to direct the early Christians towards such total reliance and not the shaky reliance on oneself which is the root of the first of seven capital or deadly sins–pride. St Paul is an antidote or a spiritual vaccine for all of us when we become afflicted with too much self-reliance. Today we have heard about the time when he was still originally named Saul. Then he got converted and the rest is history.

Whenever you feel down, especially when you feel that God cannot work through you anymore, remember St Paul. Whenever you say you are weak, you cannot do anything more, remember St Paul who said “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong…” (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Finally, St Paul is a model of prayer. There are times we bargain with God. Paul prayed to the Lord to take away a particular weakness or imperfection which he described simply as the “thorn in the flesh.” Not only once but three times he pleaded with the Lord. But the Lord replied, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” St Paul of Tarsus, pray for us, especially in times of our weaknesses. Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ