Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Prayer to St. Paul

I guess it’s fitting that in this year of evangelization I should focus the first meditation I write in 2013 on the apostle Paul, the great evangelist.  I say a prayer each morning to him, yet unlike tonight, I rarely stop to think on what I say and why.  Tonight I shall.
Paul was a model evangelist, so wise and so great, yet so much like you or I --- especially in the beginning.

A Prayer to the Apostle Paul
Glorious St. Paul,
Glorious?  Oh yes, in the beginning Saul undoubtedly thought himself glorious, in his own mind.  Wise in the eyes of men, he assumed himself wise in the eyes of God.  He learned right actions from the wisest of men, and sought approval of the most powerful, and relished in their praise.  He sought out the great teachers of the temple schools, but did not seek God Himself.  But God found him.  Tossed from his horse, blinded, he began to see more than he had ever seen in his books, but not with his eyes.  I pray to St. Paul because I, too, know what it was like to suddenly see --- when my eyes were closed, and my heart opened.  I too once thought I had learned all I needed to know. 
Most zealous Apostle,
Saul, now re-named Paul, was spoken to by God, and yet it took him years of meditation in the desert to understand what God had said.  We’re all called to grow in faith, and many of us have a “conversion story,” when our hearts were changed --- a great blessing, but like Saul, that was just our start on the path to holiness.  Like Paul, we can choose to advance zealously and seek to know and serve our God.  He calls us, too, but so many of us, not thrown from a horse or called in some other dramatic fashion, are not listening for the small, still voice which beckons us.
I ask for Paul’s prayers for me, that I might be zealous in listening, and following.
Martyr for the love of Christ,
That’s the ultimate commitment, witness, dying for Christ; it’s what we are all called to do, you know.  Paul said “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”  Dying to our will, putting His first, is the martyrdom many of His followers then could not do, nor today.  This is a hard thing.  The relativism of our culture today says I can know the truth of things, and God is not part of my evaluation, only I.  It’s hard to die to that pride in us.  Adam couldn’t do it, die to his will, that temptation to believe that he knew what was best for himself, not God.  I look to St. Paul’s example, all he did for God and all he willingly suffered, and I will to love my neighbor as he did, dying to himself and all his wisdom.
Give us a deep faith,
That’s the start point, faith: a belief and trust in what I cannot see with my eyes, an acceptance of a thing being “good” not by how it pleases me, but how it pleases God.  I pray that St. Paul, by his words captured in Scripture and by his prayers for me now, may help me to become an evangelist as he was, that I might have a strong enough faith, a deep foundation for my actions.  It’s the necessary starting point for my growing in holiness.
A steadfast hope,
Faith drives my actions of today.  Hope is belief in the reward promised for those actions:  eternal life.  Jesus died that the gates of heaven might be opened for me.  He promised that if I followed Him in faith, he would be there to greet me.  That is my hope, in His promise.  I don’t follow His example and His words only because I am some servant following orders, I follow in faith because he promised me the ultimate reward, to be one with him where He is, not as a servant, but as an adopted son.  This is my hope; it needs to be strong to keep me going, especially when things are rough.
A burning love for Our Lord;
Faith and Hope can lead us on almost blindly; even armies can succeed only on faith and hope in their leaders.  But love, love gives us perseverance in trials --- and there will be trials in this life.  To love and to be loved drives us forward; we want desperately to be with our beloved.  A burning love,” that’s what I ask St. Paul to give me, through his witness and his prayers for me.
So that we can proclaim with you,
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
“Become as other Christs,” many a saint has told us.  The words of this prayer ask for this to be so.  In those words I ask to be an evangelist, to proclaim with words, but even more with actions, that it is “Christ who lives in me.”  We were made in God’s image, but that is only the mold for our life; we are intended to be filled with Him, His graces, that when people look under our exterior mold they might see what looks like Him.  And we are not only to have Him in us, but are intended to look out at our neighbor and see Him there, too. 
Help us to become apostles serving the Church with a pure heart,
“Cleanse my heart, O God” are the words to a hymn, a prayer that we might be made holy.  A pure heart is one which does not only beat to keep us alive, but gives strength to our neighbor also.  The Church is intended to be our family in Christ.  We are called to love our neighbor, all our neighbors, but the Church is meant to be our family, encouraging us, teaching us, and healing our hurts.  The Church is a home we can always return to, and know there is love there.  Serving the Church is loving our family, including Our Father.
Witnesses to her truth and beauty amidst the darkness of our days.
The Church is home, a safe place for us to go in storms, but it is family also.  So we must not seek to tear it down like some rebellious teenager, proclaiming we don’t need its rules because “we are adults now” and know better what to do.  Rules of the Church, like rules of the family, come down through many generations.  They are not made to enslave, but to enable us to live free, as we were meant to live free, in love of family and neighbor, responsibly.  Witnessing the truth of the Church is witnessing the truth of its founder, Jesus Christ.  It IS what evangelizing is all about.
With you we praise God, Our Father: “To Him be the glory,
in the Church, and in Christ, now and forever.  Amen.
St. Paul is in my family in Christ, and I look forward to being with him and all my family in heaven.  But even here on earth I give witness to the patriarch of our family, Our Father.  I wish to praise Him not only in words, but in actions from my heart, in the Church and with all my family there --- where at every mass we gather as family to praise Our Father, and to remember HIS sacrifice:  He gave His only Son for us.  He loves us that much; He gave His Son as a martyr for us.  I wish to be able to do no less for Him.
St. Paul, pray for us.
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Today is the feast of the Epiphany in the Catholic Church, and we heard the Scripture story of the Magi and their gifts.  Three earthly kings came to pay homage to a heavenly king.  Many look at this story and consider how we are also to pay homage to God, and the gifts we each have to offer Him.  Today, however, my mind considered this story from God’s eyes. 
“What do you give to the person who has everything?”  I mean, God created everything.  It’s like the farmer who retired from a life of growing tomatoes, thousands of acres of tomatoes every year.  Moving to a new retirement community, he still retained a warehouse full of stewed tomatoes, a lifetime supply.  And so what happened on his first day of retirement in the new neighborhood?  The welcome wagon paid him a visit: “Welcome to the neighborhood, and as a sign of our appreciation we give you this basket of tomatoes.”  So what did the farmer say?  “Well, uh, er, um, thank you very much.  I do like tomatoes.” 
And so what do you think God thought about the Magi’s gifts?  He had everything they could offer, plenty of it, except for one thing:  themselves.  God might have a warehouse full of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but each of the kings was a unique being, like no other.  And each could choose to do as he wished with their life, including ignoring God.  And yet they humbled themselves to give witness to their faith in him, a totally priceless and unique gift ---- and one that even God didn’t have!
The Magi followed a star, based on their faith in ancient written prophecies.  They followed the light to reach The Light.  They made their way, to find The Way.  I’m sure those kings took many a vacation in their lives, but this trip was no vacation.  It was a public witness to their faith; they were not ashamed to tell King Herod of their quest; they didn’t care if he should think them foolish. 
A journey they felt compelled to make, following a light --- it’s the same simple witness we are all called to make.
The pastor at our church today mentioned the NFL player Terry Tebow, and all the ruckus he causes by sometimes kneeling in prayer in public, or saying that Jesus is the light of his life.  “You would think,” said Fr. Ed, “that Tebow had grabbed the stadium mike and commanded: ‘Now everyone kneel down and give your life to Jesus.’”  But Tebow commanded nothing, he just did a simple witness by his actions ---- and people noticed.  That’s all we are called to do also, evangelize by our little actions.  Listening to our friends’ problems and saying “I’ll pray for you.”  Sitting with the person in the hospital who has no one else.  (Perhaps talking to the bartender?)  These are little things which speak loudly, to other men, and to God.  They are signs of our faith.
That’s how we give ourselves to God: in how we live.  That’s how we live with Christ in us, when we see someone in need calling out “God help me,” and we softly say: “That’s okay, God.  I got this one --- for You.”
We sang two hymns in church this morning:  “You are called to walk in the light of Christ” and “Emmanuel: God is with us.”  And if God is with us, who can be against us?
We are all called to give witness to that light.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light and without You I am in darkness.  – Padre Pio  

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