by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Paul is one of the most fascinating and important figures in Christian history. He was a Jew but enjoyed the status of being a Roman citizen.
In St. Paul’s day to be a Roman citizen was considered the gold standard for political and social status. It entitled Paul to rights and privileges that most of his fellow Jews did not possess.
We see an example of these privileges in the Acts of the Apostles. When he is in Roman custody in Caesarea because of the accusations made by Jewish leaders, who are actually plotting to assassinate him, Paul appeals to Caesar. The Roman governor suspends the proceedings and grants the request for Paul to be taken to Rome to present his case.
Paul studied under Gamaliel, the most respected rabbi of his era and thus was well-educated in Jewish Scriptures and law. Paul was a Pharisee and as such held himself accountable to a very high standard for the observance of Jewish law.
For Paul to have Roman citizenship and the opportunity to study under Gamaliel reveals that he came from a family of economic means and social status. Paul was certainly not poor and until his conversion to Christianity was considered an emerging leader within Judaism. Paul possessed a privileged status both as a Roman citizen and within Judaism because of his elite education regarding Mosaic law.
However, in the third chapter of his Letter to the Philippians, Paul declares that he considered his privileged status actually as a liability in comparison to “the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8).
In the same verse, Paul goes on to say: “For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ.”
During the infancy of Christianity, the life of an apologist for Jesus and his Gospel was, to say the least, difficult and fraught with many dangers. His material needs were met from either his hard physical work as a tentmaker or the freewill offerings from those who had come to know Jesus through his preaching.
In Chapter 11 of his Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul presents his credentials as a minister of Christ and an authentic teacher of the Christian faith.
In humility, Paul acknowledges that to make this claim he is talking like one who is insane (2 Cor 11: 23). What are Paul’s credentials? They are “far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings and numerous brushes with death.”
Paul continues detailing his resume as a disciple of Jesus: “Five times at the hands of the Jews, I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure” (2 Cor 11: 24-26).
Our English translation of Paul considering everything apart from his friendship with Jesus as rubbish is quite sanitized. The Greek word is much more graphic and is more accurately translated into English words that I prefer not to use in The Leaven.
The fact that you are reading this column indicates a high probability you are a very engaged Catholic. I encourage you to enter into the liturgies of Holy Week with a profound gratitude for those who have helped you come to know Jesus, the joy of his Gospel and the beauty of our Catholic faith.
We have received, though most do not realize it, what every person on planet Earth desires and longs for in their hearts. We were built to be in communion with God. It is only the divine presence that can satisfy the hunger of our souls.
During Holy Week, invite Jesus to penetrate your heart with the depth of his love for you in fresh and more profound ways. The Passion narratives and the Holy Week liturgies reveal to us the depth of God’s love for us. They make clear what God was willing to go through in order that we might know his merciful love and share in his divine and eternal life.
Jesus can bring peace to our souls. He alone can bring meaning and purpose to the adversities and suffering of our lives. When we surrender our hearts to him and are willing to follow him all the way to Calvary, Jesus can give us a peace that the exterior world cannot destroy or steal.
No other world religion believes what we believe — that the Creator of the Cosmos, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings has pursued us and desires to be in communion with us.
We believe in a God who entered fully into our human condition. We believe in a God who suffered and died an excruciating and humiliating death on Calvary so that you and I could know the depth of his unconditional and merciful love for us.
No human relationship, no worldly recognition, no earthly accomplishment, no physical pleasure, no exhilarating entertainment can compare, can come close to comparing, with the love of God for us revealed in Jesus Christ.
Apart from Jesus all else is rubbish. Have a grace-filled Holy Week!