It is quite clear from the Church’s scripture readings from Acts of the Apostles that St. Paul is the paradigmatic example of what Pope Francis referred to as “making a mess.”
The Holy Father encouraged the youth of Brazil to “make a mess” in an address to them during his pastoral visit to Brazil a few years ago.
What the Holy Father meant was not that young people engage in petty and self-interested acts of rebellion, but that they embrace as their own way of life the way of a disciple of the Lord Jesus- and it is the way of a disciple of the Lord Jesus that will upset routines and upend the status quo. All this upheaval is for the sake of love for Christ, a love that transforms lives and changes the world.
For St. Paul, the love of God in Christ meant challenging the prevailing culture of his time, one that was based on power and domination (which were the great values of the Roman Empire and understood as the sure and certain way to attain wealth, pleasure, and honors). In the face of the values of his time, St. Paul proclaimed the way of the Lord Jesus, a way in which power was manifested, not in domination, but in the will to love and to forgive and greater than wealth, pleasure and honors were faith, hope and love.
St. Paul was not merely a spiritual guru or social activist, he was to the depth of his being a servant of the Lord Jesus and as Christ’s servant he knew it was his mission to “make a mess” by proclaiming the truth that the way of the world (the way of Rome) was not the way that God wanted.
One of the key moves of the story of the early Church in the Book of Acts is the movement of the Church outward, from Jerusalem, and into the world. But it is not only the movement of the Church outward and into the world that is significant, but getting the Apostle Paul to Rome. Why?
The answer: Because Rome, was the center of the world, but there is another reason:
That reason is because the disciples of the Lord Jesus were on a covert operation to subvert the mighty Roman Empire from the inside. The great and mighty Roman Empire that had crucified Christ and made itself the enemy of Christians would itself be subverted by small bands of missionary disciples who went to Rome to “make a mess”, proclaiming that Jesus, not Caesar, is the world’s true ruler. Christ did not send his Christians, did not send St. Paul to Rome to promote a new kind of faith-based initiative. He sent his Christians to Rome to make a mess that would change the world.
St. Paul will arrive in Rome as Rome’s prisoner, but it turns out that it is really God’s Providence that is bringing St. Paul to Rome. His arrival will signal the beginning of the end of Rome’s power and domination.
We are the successors of those first missionary disciples. What kind of mess are we making? Are our efforts merely a tired old affirmation of the current culture’s status quo? Or are we offering to others an invitation to know and receive the way of a disciple of Jesus Christ? Or is our way the way of the world, a way like the old Roman way, the way of worldliness wrapped up in a faith-based package?
Christ continues in his Gospel to speak of mystical unity with his divine person- of becoming one with him. What does this mean?
It means loving what Christ loves and serving what Christ serves. Professing faith in Christ does not mean making that faith up to serve our interests, causes and needs. Instead is means a conscious, deliberative, intentional act of knowing Christ as he wants us to know him. Knowing Christ does not mean knowing facts or theories about him, but knowing him well enough to love what he loves and serve what he serves.
This is true Christian mysticism: loving what Christ loves and serving what Christ serves- in this we become more than just people who know something about Christ- instead, we become Christ’s disciples.