success stories

Book: The Testimony of St. Paul
Author: Carlo M. Martini
Crossroad, NY, pp. 102

Excerpt from Introduction:

Paul is a most enigmatic saint. Certainly his most loved and best known passage is the glorious hymn to love in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. Yet he is also popularly reputed as a mysogynist (he was not, in fact, but he shared with his contemporaries the feeling that women should be kept in their place . . . ). His prolific pen was capable of warm encouragement and praise as well as stern rebuke. His theology is expressed in majestic poetry and in complicated and repetitive prose. Peter the fisherman is not the only one to have found that “our beloved brother Paul . . . has written . . . some things hard to be understood” (2 Peter 3:15-16).

All in all, it is difficult for most of us to form a coherent picture of this many-faceted Apostle. Fortunately, Archbishop Martini comes to our aid with this absorbing and helpful study of Paul.

Carlo Maria Martini imagines Paul on his way to his execution. It is said that the last moments before death are often preceded by a review of one’s entire life. If we had stopped to speak to Paul as he faced martyrdom, what would he have told us? What would have been his final testimony?

Excerpt from Book:

On the Road to Damascus

The first conversion [of Paul] takes place on the road to Damascus. In fact if we had asked Paul, as he prepared for martyrdom, what had been the decisive moment of his life, he would undoubtedly have replied: the vision on the road to Damascus.

The whole life of the Apostle was marked by that event. It is difficult for us to understand it for in fact, it was only at the point of death that Paul himself understood its full meaning. We ourselves will probably have to wait until the end of our life’s journey before we fully grasp the meaning of our baptism or ordination.

On the other hand, even if it is difficult to take Damascus as our starting-point — because it is the episode which included everything else and which can only be understood in the light of successive conversion experiences — it is nevertheless quite certain that, as far as Paul is concerned, everything starts from here.

Before everything was different; afterwards everything will be different.

False interpretatons

1. Let us start by getting rid of any false ideas we may have about this event.

It is a story so often repeated in catechesis, liturgy and art as to have become somewhat hackneyed — Paul falling to the ground, the bright light. It is all too easy to misunderstand, trivialize and underrate the whole episode, with serious consequences for our understanding of God’s dealings with man.

One false, or at least incomplete, idea is to look at Damascus purely as a moral conversion: Paul was a great sinner and, at a certain point, having understood what harm he was doing, he changed his way of life. This is conversion seen on an ethical level denoting Paul’s strong will, his profound change of heart and movement towards an interior life.

From this viewpoint, all the emphasis is on what Paul was, what makes him change, what he becomes.

Another narrow interpretation is to think of Paul as a man who transfer his allegiance. A zealous observer of the Law who, from a certain point onwards, dedicates his zeal, oratorical skill and tireless activity to the service of a new master, Christ.

This is nothing more than a change of objective, a change of Church: first he served the Synagogue, then the Church of Christ whom he came to see as the triumphant Way. . . .

Or we may think that the whole thing was caused by the force of his own energies which were originally concentrated on one thing an then transferred to something which seemed better. . .

If we interpret Paul’s conversion like this, we shall very likely apply such norms to our own or other’s conversion and so greatly underestimate the action of God.

. . . . Paul knew very well what a conversion was and he knew that his own had all the characteristics of a conversion. However, his experience took a greater and more profound form.

. . . In the New Testament there are different ways of viewing the complex phenomenon of man’s journey to God. John prefers to say: to come to Jesus, to come to him, to walk towards him . . . . This is nearer to Paul’s interpretation of his own conversion.

Table of Contents:

1. On the road to Damascus

False interpretations
The mystery of Damascus
Questions to ask ourselves

2. The knowledge of Jesus

Where were you when the Word caught up with you?
In which direction did the Lord take you?
How did this transition come about?
Let us ask ourselves a few questions too

3. Paul’s darkness

Blindness as a reaction to the splendor of God
Blindness as a way of penance
Personal sin
Root sin
Structural sin

4. Conversion and disappointment

The texts
The actual facts
The motivation behind the facts
Paul’s own experience
A question t ask ourselves

5. Priestly examination of conscience

“To be with”
“I have served the Lord”
“With tears”
“In all humility”

6. Conversion and estrangement

Who was Barnabas?
What Barnabas was to Paul
What happened?
What were the consequences?
How Paul experienced the separation

7. The transfiguration of Paul

What is meant by transfiguration
Inner attitudes of transfiguration
The outward manifestations of Paul’s transfiguration
Paul’s transfiguration is the model for the transfiguration of the pastor

8. Passio Pauli, passio Christi

Similarities and differences between ‘passio Christi’ and ‘passio Pauli’
The passion of the Christian
How Paul particularly shared in the passion of Christ
Questions for us

9. God is mercy

Paul’s last words