Paul in prison
If it were possible to capture the spirit of St. Paul in a motto it might be something like: "Never give up!" A bit like the famed speech of English Prime Minister Winston Churchill who spoke eloquently to his embattled country during World War II when he urged the citizens of England, and London in particular, to "Never, never, never, never give up."
Our first reading from Acts today, Tuesday, and throughout the Easter season has heard from this fascinating book of St. Luke. He continued the second part of his Gospel when he wrote this account of growth, by the power of the Holy Spirit, of the earliest of Christian communities. Primarily it offers us an inspirational story of the Holy Spirit's coming on the Apostles and then soon targets the conversion and subsequent stunning ministry of Saul, now Paul. His missionary journeys are described and the establishment of Christian communities, populated throughout the ancient world of Asia Minor by the non-Jewish Gentile citizens after his somewhat failed attempt to call the Jews to embrace Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. Paul traveled thousands of miles from Jerusalem, to Athens, Corinth, Ephesus, Rome and points inbetween. Tradition states that he intended to move on to Spain but his journeys were ended in Rome after imprisonment with his martyrdom.
Today in the Acts we certainly see that motto of "Never give up" supported by Paul and Silas, his companion missionary, who are beaten, imprisoned, and fixed to the floor with chains, yet through divine intervention it seems, do not hesitate but push on all the more:
Acts 16: 22-34
Despite his physical injuries, and I find it stunning that he often seems to recover rather quickly, moved by his inner conviction that Jesus is indeed the Savior by his death and resurrection, he carries on boldly without fear or hesitation. Christ has given him a mission to preach the Good News of the Gospel to the wider world outside Jerusalem and with the help of other companions, he does so in legendary ways. Paul never gives up and those around him must have been deeply moved by his tenacity.
What drives Paul? His youth for one, likely Paul was in his 30's at the most. His physical strength had to play some role here. His conviction and his conversion to faith in Jesus Christ and the Spirit driven force within that compelled him to "never give up" what God had sent him to do. For Paul, all was worth the price he payed.
I think it should move us to find those areas of our life where we are soft and to strengthen them through the determined grace of the Holy Spirit to stop wining and complaining about my shortcomings or my alleged inconveniences.
Here at the parish we sadly see this occasionally from various parents who make excuses for their children as to why they cannot participate in various requirements for sacramental preparation. The reason, far more often than not, is involvement in sports. It is a good thing to keep physically active of course and to enjoy the benefits of healthy competition. But, Church is always the last choice, fitting it in where we can. Who gave up here? Not a condemnation by any means but a point of reflection for some. "We don't have time for Mass and/or preparation for sacraments but we do have time for soccer practice, ballet lessons, and the three hour football or baseball game." Think of Paul, his determination and especially his priorities of what is really important and what will really carry you on. It's simply a matter of choice as to what we feel is more important and where to find time for those activities. No one has ever died from "terminal Church!"
At any rate, Paul is an inspiration for all of us to "Never give up" in the ways of Christ and his Church.