Originally a persecutor of Jesus’ followers, the man also known as Saul would become the first “missioner saint.”
Name: Paul of Tarsus
Lived: 5-64 (approx.)
Feast day: June 29 (Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul)
St. Paul of Tarsus is the original missioner saint. A Jewish man of deep learning, after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus he became Christian. His passion for the Gospel, that tireless effort to help establish new Catholic communities, is the hallmark of all Catholic missioners.
It was St. Luke, scholars agree, who tells us about St. Paul, when Luke wrote a two-part telling of the Jesus story: The Gospel According to St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. Acts tells us how the Church was born and how the Gospel spread far beyond Jerusalem. St. Paul plays a key role.
St. Paul (then-Saul) was a zealous man who worked with his hands, a tentmaker. He was passionate first as a Jew who had no patience for the Christians—so much that he partook in stoning our first martyr, St. Stephen. “Saul, Saul, Why are you persecuting me?” Those words from our Lord stopped our future saint in his tracks. He went on to take the gospel to non-Jewish people (the Gentiles)—even persuading the not-so-eager leaders of the Church (St. Peter) to do so.
Like missioners today, St. Paul learned that the Gospel speaks to all peoples, and that it becomes enfleshed in the cultures of the people who believe. Learning how to work in the language of the people, yet retain the truth of the Gospel, as Paul did, remains the work of missioners today. He suffered mightily in the effort, and eventually gave his life for it.
Prayer/Reflection: God, enkindle in our hearts the fire of your love. Help us to experience Pentecost, again and again, to listen for the Spirit working in our lives, and to follow where it leads us. Like St. Paul, help us to be brave bearers of your truth.