The story of St. Paul began in acts with a martyr. Remember, Paul is introduced to us as a persecutor of the Church who is present at the stoning of Stephen, the first of the Church’s martyrs.
The Book of Acts presents Paul as coldly approving of Stephen’s murder.
We then learn that Christ the Lord intervenes in the life of Paul in an extraordinary way, revealing his divine identity and also that his life and presence endures in this world in the Church. Paul learns that in persecuting the Church, he has set himself in opposition to God.
Christ offers Paul what he needs the most, forgiveness and the gift of another chance. Paul the Persecutor becomes Paul the Friend of Christ and his Church. Paul’s acceptance of Christ’s gift transforms him, and leads to the transformation of the world.
We are, all of us, who are the descendants of Gentiles, are also the spiritual descendants of St. Paul.
Today’s scripture from the Book of Acts presents Paul at the end of his missionary adventures. He had intended to go west, to Rome, the center of the known world, and Providence has brought him to Rome, but he arrives as a prisoner. He will be tried in Rome and executed. His story, a story that began with a martyr, will end with a martyr. Paul himself will be the martyr this time. The man who presided at the death of the Church’s first martyr will become a martyr himself.
Eventually the empire that killed St. Paul will fall. Caesar is long gone and his empire with him. It is the successor of the missionary adventure of St. Peter and St. Paul who now presides over the city of Rome, and Rome, which once sent out armies to conquer the world for Caesar, now sends forth missionaries to bring the world to Christ.
We who are the spiritual descendants of St. Paul now share in his mission. Our mission territory is not in far off lands, but here, in our own neighborhood. It is here in this our mission territory that we are supposed to do what St. Paul did, introduce people to Christ and invite them to share his gifts in the Church.
Those who know Christ and accept his gifts must share with others what they have been privileged to receive. This is how the Church flourishes and grows. This missionary work cannot be delegated away to others, but all the Baptized are to advance, as St. Paul did, the cause of Christ and his Church.
St. Paul knew that the missionary adventure would entail sacrifices, indeed he was willing to sacrifice his life. Perhaps far less is asked of us in terms of sacrifices, but we are asked to make an offering for the sake of the Church’s mission. What that sacrifice is will be particular to each Christian, but Christ will ask us for something.
At the very least Christ insists that we be open with others about our identity as his followers and that we come to know him well enough that we can credibly introduce him to others. Christian faith is a way of life that is lived publically and openly. But, you cannot share with others what you do not know, and as such, getting to know the Lord Jesus is necessary. Missionaries must know Jesus, not just vague speculations and scholarly opinions, but they must know him as one knows a friend.
We come to know the Lord Jesus in the Church. He presents his life and presence to us in his Sacraments and in the Scriptures we come to know his identity and mission. Through prayer, we make ourselves available to him, and in our service to the poor, we serve him.
It is in the Church that we become, like St. Paul, a friend of Jesus Christ, and it is from the Church that we go out into the world as missionaries and it to the Church that we bring the world to know Christ, share his gifts and become his friends.