The Christmas liturgy will speak to us of the "holy exchange," of the "sacrum commercium," between us and God realized in Christ.
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"But Whatever Gain I Had, I Counted as a Loss for the Sake of Christ" The Conversion of St. Paul: Model of True Christian Conversion
The Pauline Year is a great grace for the Church, but it also presents a danger: that of reflecting on Paul, his personality and his doctrine without taking the next step from him to Christ. The Holy Father warned against this risk in the homily with which he proclaimed the Pauline Year in the general audience of last July 2, stating: "This is the purpose of the Pauline Year: to learn from St. Paul, to learn the faith, to learn about Christ."
This danger has occurred so many times in the past, to the point of giving a place to the absurd thesis according to which Paul, not Christ, is the real founder of Christianity. Jesus Christ was for Paul what Socrates was for Plato: a pretext, a name, under which to put his own thought.
The Apostle, as John the Baptist before him, is an index pointing to one "greater than he," of which he does not consider himself worthy to be an Apostle. The former thesis is the most complete distortion and the gravest offense that can be made to the Apostle Paul. If he came back to life, he would react to that thesis with the same vehemence with which he reacted in face of a similar misunderstanding of the Corinthians: "Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:13).
Another obstacle to overcome, also for us believers, is that of pausing on Paul's doctrine on Christ, without catching his love and fire for him. Paul does not want to be for us only a winter sun that illuminates but does not warm. The obvious intention of his letters is to lead readers not only to the knowledge of but also to love and passion for Christ.
To this end I wish to contribute the three meditations of Advent this year, beginning with this one today, in which we reflect on Paul's conversion, the event that, after the death and resurrection of Christ, has most influenced the future of Christianity.
1. Paul's Conversion Seen From Within
The best explanation of St. Paul's conversion is the one he himself gives when he speaks of Christian baptism as being "baptized into the death of Christ" -- "buried with him" to rise with him and "walk in newness of life" (cf. Romans 6:3-4). He relived in himself the paschal mystery of Christ, around which, in turn, all his thought will revolve. There are also impressive external analogies. Jesus remained three days in the sepulcher; for three days Saul lived as though dead: He could not see, stand, eat, then, at the moment of baptism, his eyes reopened, he was able to eat and gather his strength; he came back to life (cf. Acts 9:18).
Immediately after his baptism, Jesus withdrew to the desert and so did Paul, after being baptized by Ananias, he withdrew to the desert of Arabia, namely, the desert around Damascus. Exegetes estimate that there were some 10 years of silence in Paul's life between the event on the road to Damascus and the start of this public activity in the Church. The Jews sought him to death, the Christians did not yet trust him and feared him. His conversion recalls that of Cardinal Newman, whose former brothers of Anglican faith considered a renegade and Catholics looked upon with suspicion because of his new and ardent ideas.
The Apostle had a long novitiate; his conversion did not last a few minutes. And it is in this his kenosis, in this time of deprivation and silence that he accumulated that bursting energy and light that one day would pour over the world.
We have two descriptions of Paul's conversion: one that describes the event, so to speak, from outside, on a historical note, and another that describes the event from within, on a psychological or autobiographical note. The first type is the one we find in the three relations that we read about in the Acts of the Apostles. To it also belong some references that Paul himself makes of the event, explaining how from being a persecutor he became an apostle of Christ (cf. Galatians 1:13-24).
The second type belongs to Chapter 3 of the Letter to the Philippians, in which the Apostle describes what the encounter with Christ meant to him subjectively, what he was before and what he became afterward; in other words, in what the change in his life consisted existentially and religiously. We will concentrate on his text that, by analogy with the Augustinian work, we can describe ...
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