If you are looking for my blog titled, The Contemplative Catholic Convert, you are at the right spot.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

An "In-Your-Face" Kinda Guy

So I'm reading through Galatians and I get to this section in which St. Paul details how God sent him to preach the gospel. To illustrate the point, he refers to the well-known "pillars" of the early Church -- Saints Peter and James:

But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality). . . (Galatians 2:6).

I don't know. Maybe I'm reading more into this passage than is really there. But as I reflected on what I know of St. Paul, I caught a glimpse of what seems to be the apostle's attitude problem.

An attitude which is, for me, understandable.

After all, before his Damascus Road experience, Paul was a Pharisee. And not just a run-of-the-proverbial-mill Pharisee, but a Pharisee of Pharisees. He tells us earlier in Galatians that he was advancing in his Judaism way beyond his colleagues.

And to the Philippians he wrote: If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless (Philippians 3:4-7).

And then there was that attitude-related incident in Acts in which Paul got so angry with Barnabas over St. Mark, that the two separated and went in opposite directions. You can read about it in Acts 15:36-39.

I might be wrong, but I think St. Paul -- at least in the early years after his conversion -- was an "in-your-face" kinda guy. He probably never heard the expression that I've used for years (especially growing up in a Jewish neighborhood) -- Two Jews, Three Opinions -- but I suspect the apostle to the Gentiles had a mind of his own, and he didn't hesitate to speak his mind.

Of course, Paul's letter to the Galatians is one of his earliest (written around 47 A.D.). And by the time he wrote what was likely his last (during Nero's reign), he seems to have mellowed -- maybe even had a transformation of his personality. Here is what he says to Timothy about St. Mark: Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service (2 Timothy 4:11).

So, he now considers Mark useful -- which was quite different from Paul's earlier position.

I tried to read again where I left off in Galatians, but couldn't get very far because something about Paul and his transformation encouraged me.

In some ways the apostle seems to me like the caricature of a New York Jew -- opinionated, no-nonsense, and quick-tempered. And some who know me might say that caricature sounds a lot like me.

It's clear in the Book of Acts that God used Paul in wonderful ways for His kingdom -- despite the apostle's "in-your-face" personality -- which (if what they say about me is true -- and it probably is) is a lot like mine. And because of my sometimes-aggressive personality, I sometimes wonder why God still bothers to hang out with me.

That He does hang out with me is not to say He doesn't care if I'm in other peoples' faces. He does care. And I'm sure He's not fond of the way I sometimes speak my mind. Yes, I believe He wants me to be firm, but He also wants me to be gentle; to stand for truth, yet do so with humility.

But Scriptures like the ones I've mentioned here also teach me -- and encourage me -- that God is not reluctant to use in-your-face "Paul's."

I wonder if sometimes that's all He has to use.

Yet the more I think about the apostle and God's relationship with him during his ministry years, the more I realize the reason God still hangs out with me is because -- well, it's because of what He calls His grace.

And patience.

And love.

For which I am so very grateful.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Interesting. Paul is a problematic New Testament character for me, and without over-indulgence in judgment, a reminder God moves in this world through imperfect agents. I hope one day you will "contemplate" Paul's thoughts on the place of women.