Saul (Hebrew name), Paul (Roman family name) are the names by which we know the great apostle and foundation of the Catholicity. The little we know about Paul of Tarsus comes to us through two sources: his own letters, and the book of Acts of the Apostles. The exact date of his birth is not known but --according to some of the most important Pauline theologians, like Joseph A. Fitzmyer-- it is reasonable to place his birth in the first decade of the Christian era.
Paul was born in the Hellenistic city of Tarsus and, from birth, enjoyed the privileges of a Roman citizen. Because of this, we can say that in his mind all three cultures of the time fit brilliantly: the Semitic-Jewish of his parents (Hebrew, Jewish, Pharisee); the Hellenistic (dominant culture); and the Roman (the culture of the Empire in which the apostle lived). This triple vision of the world, this triple cultural dimension constantly shows in his writings; and allows the apostle great versatility to adapt himself to each distinct audience, to preach adequately, and to try to reach all people of the known world by preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.
This cosmopolitan personality, this cultural versatility in Paul explains more than enough the title which we give him with honor: “The Apostle to the Gentiles.” Thanks to this cultural opening in his character, and this “globalized” vision of the world, Paul would become the most important missionary and preacher in the beginnings of the Church. Also, thanks to his work of evangelization we can say, without doubt, that the Good News of Jesus Christ came out of the local roads and paths of Galilee to reach, up until today, every man and woman of good will born in the four corners of the earth.
What pushed Paul to unconditionally dedicate himself to this mission from the moment of his conversion until the end of his life? What was the motor to his apostolic work? What gave him “strength” and motivation? The certainty of having found in the Gospel the happiness that every man and woman seeks and longs for, and --in its Theology-- the person of Jesus Christ himself. From the moment when he had that personal encounter with Jesus, whom he persecuted by persecuting the Christians, a fact told by the symbolism used in biblical texts, Paul dedicated himself completely to tell that marvelous works were done in him by Christ. Paul understood these marvelous “works” as part of the work of the “Crucified Christ”: to bring salvation to mankind. A salvation/happiness which, according to him, will reach all throughout the world without distinction of race, condition, nationality, age, etc.
Therefore, the fundamental affirmation of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is born in Paul from an indescribable and very personal experience: The crucified Christ changed his life, and if he changed his life sheathing it with a new mentality, it is because the Crucified “Lives”! This confession by Paul of his fundamental faith in the “gospel” is not born from intellectual works, but from a daily experience guaranteed and reconfirmed by the testimony of the first believers; those first Christians (men and women, martyrs of the first hours of Christianity) whom Paul vehemently persecuted, impelled and in perfect alignment with the enthusiasm of his previous pharisaic convictions.
Because, if anything is clear in Paul’s personality, it is his authenticity: first, he lived authentically as the “most” Pharisee of all Pharisees; and –after his encounter with Christ-- he lived authentically as a “Christian.”
Many aspects of Paul’s life need to be rescued so that our present historical and ecclesial perspective can be enlightened. Among others:
· His cosmopolitan vision of man and of the world; his openness and embrace of all cultures and all men and women recognizing them as brothers and sisters in Christ (this completely opposite to the “petrine” vision which pretended to imprison the Gospel within the boarders of Israel); and even today, his vision goes against the xenophobic, discriminatory, and divisionist vision which, disguised by “globalism”, allows the accumulation of riches in the hands of a few while the price is payed by marginalization, impoverishment and misery of a great majority.
· His missionary fervor for the work of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
· His great generosity in the work of saving/making all peoples happy with the Good News of
Jesus Christ, even with great personal sacrifices (persecution and imprisonment not told).
· His Christian beliefs came from experience not from notion.
· His preaching and later theological reflections (put into writing in his letters) come out of the daily experiences of feeling himself loved/happy, thanks to the daily intervention of the “Crucified/Resurrected” in his life.
· To have been able to establish among the biblical theological terms (vetero and neo testamentary), words to designate God’s saving works such as salvation, redemption, expiation, liberation, justification etc. which describe the basic wish of all people: to be happy in Christ. Because for Paul, the life-in-Christ has one clear function: The “Christ-happening” was to make us happy, in other words, to save us, to give us eternal life, abundant life; that life which Paul himself found on the road to Damascus.
May these lines encourage us to know and to imitate the Apostle Paul, in a more authentic manner, for the mission which we all have as baptized believers: to live and to preach with words and actions, the Gospel of Jesus Christ which is (as it was for Paul) our power, our strength, our salvation; our happiness, our eternal life, and the plenitude of our existence and of human history.