Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The St. Paul I know
The following is an essay that I wrote for a contest in our church for the annual parish feast. I did not win anything for this, but would like to know your feedback.
"The St. Paul I know"
As the fires burned around them and bodies fell many Christians like you and I huddled in the shadows of a village in Orissa. These people feared the loss of their limbs, their goods, their loved ones or even their lives from the marauding mobs before them. Even as they peered through the haze they could vaguely see the faces of their tormentors even as the smoke cleared their horror increased as the faces of their neighbours were in the forefront. The very same shopkeeper, milkman, vegetable vendor, who had been an in separable part of their lives are now threatening to end their very lives.
Even as the persecuted wondered at the sudden change of events, several questions arose that went abegging for answers. What had happened in the space of a few days to tear a community apart? Can something as intensely personal as one’s faith be the cause for so much suffering? How will they ever relate to people of other faiths before? Why is my own neighbour persecuting me?
History has the habit of repeating itself. Turn back time to nearly 2000 years and you will probably find yourself yet again cowering in fear from marauding mobs. You will be hounded to death because even back then you simply were not one of the chosen people and you had no right to inherit the land of your forefathers because you believed what the majority did not. As you huddled in fear you may see the face of a zealot who led the rampaging mobs spreading terror in the hearts of those who opposed him. This young man hailing from Tarsus was called Saul.
Saul of then or the zealots of today look at them closely and you may not find many differences between them. They were conditioned to believe that they were right and maybe they were right but what they did can never be justified. But Saul is remembered today because he did not remain Saul, he experienced for himself the truth and as the saying goes the truth set him free.
The transformation of Saul to Paul has been documented and I will not dwell too much on the topic, but I admire the depth of change that Paul underwent. It is easy to go from good to excellent but from Saul to Paul nothing short of a miracle will suffice. The miracle in question is a deep and intimate encounter with Christ. Religion after all is not about rules and procedures; they are for the leaders and politicians who can use them for their own ends. Religion is simply a deep relationship between oneself and his God. As St. Paul said I now no longer live, Christ lives in me, sums up how intimate the encounter was.
Many of us tend to get a spiritual high from various spiritual exercises and often I tend to come down to planet earth and go on with life till the next high. It maybe the same with others but with St. Paul it was always a life of highs. Even in the depths of despair it was his faith that carried him through.
It will be hypocritical for Saul to write about love but for St. Paul who gave us one of the best descriptions of love it is simply the only way of Christian life. St. Paul has shown to us that no matter how evil we can be God will still call us but the choice to listen remains with us.
The transformation of Saul to Paul and the growth of the church is a reminder for us that the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church. Through the ages the church has faced persecution but has been resilient and has grown for 2000 years. History will still repeat itself and when the mobs attack I pray that God will call yet another Saul to Paul.
PS: The image taken from the web is supposedly MIchelangelo's conversion of st. paul