grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in
year when we read this Epistle, I am impressed with the idea that we
are reading “Saint Paul's Adventure Story.” “In
labours … prisons … in stripes above measure, in deaths
often ... beaten with rods … stoned ... shipwreck, a night and
a day I was in the depth of the sea.... waters … robbers ..
in the city ... in the wilderness … in the sea.… In
labour and painfulness, in watchings, in hunger and thirst …
fastings ... cold and nakedness.... my daily concern for all the
churches.... At Damascus, the governor of the nation under Aretas the
king, guarded the city of the Damascenes, to apprehend me. And
through a window in the wall, was I let down in a basket, and so
escaped his hands.
anyone were to make a movie about Saint Paul's life, it seems that
Indiana Jones would have to play Paul. “Harrison Ford,
the Apostle from Tarsus”!
people talk about religious vocations, they often distinguish “the
active life” from “the contemplative life.”
By “active” they mean a vocation that is active in the
world, like the parish priest, the teaching sister, or the hospital
brother or nun. The “contemplative” is thought to
be someone who does little else but engage in prayer. The
distinction is entirely too sharp, for there is no “active”
vocation without a substantial amount of prayer—and there is no
“contemplative” vocation without a measure of activity.
the most “contemplative” order in the Catholic Church is
the Carthusians. The Carthusian monk spends most of his time in
his cell. If he is a priest he says his Mass there, and a
laybrother brings him his meals to eat there—but even he goes
to the monastic church three times a day to participate in the public
offering of Matins-Lauds, Mass, and Vespers.
Even when privately recited in his cell, all of the hours of the
Divine Office are part of the Church's public worship. His cell
will have a small workshop where he may engage in some sort of manual
craft necessary to the monastery. He may spend some of his time
writing for publication. His cell will open on a small private
garden where he may cultivate flowers and grow vegetables that will
supplement the monastery food supply. There is always wood to
be chopped. And someone has to make that green liquor, which
gives its name to the color chartreuse. On Sundays there is a
communal meal in the refectory, and on Mondays there is a long
hike—perhaps four hours long—for exercise and to allow
the monks to know one another in conversation. Men and women
(there are Carthusian nuns as well as monks) are beings of body and
soul, so even in the most contemplative life there is need for a
certain amount of activity.
Paul exemplifies this union of contemplation and activity in an
extremely high degree. Not only did we read about his
“adventure story” today, but we also read of his high
degree of contemplative union with God: “caught up to
the third heaven.... caught up into paradise, and heard secret
words, such as are not granted to man to utter.”
Very few contemplative monks or nuns report such dynamic contact with
for all his closeness to God, Paul is humble: “I will
glory nothing, but in my infirmities..... for [God's] power is made
perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my
infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For
which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in
necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I
am weak, then am I powerful.”
there we see the source of Paul's missionary zeal and energy:
“in infirmities … reproaches ... necessities ...
persecutions ... distresses … [if they are] for
Christ.... then am I powerful.” If
they are for Christ!
February 27th, if today were not Sunday, we would be celebrating the
feast of a young Passionist seminarian, Gabriel Possenti, or as he
was known in religion, Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother. Gabriel
died, before being ordained priest, of tuberculosis at the age of
twenty-four. Even in those few years he became well known for
his contemplative prayer life and his devotion to the sorrows of the
Blessed Virgin. But there was an active side to Gabriel as
well—he was very good with a pistol.
1860 the riffraff army under the Freemason Giuseppe Garibaldi invaded
the Papal States and defeated the army of Pope Pius IX. A group
of soldiers entered Isola del Gran Sasso, where Gabriel was studying
for the priesthood. As they looted the town, the noise they
made alerted Gabriel to their presence. He heard the screams of
a young girl, who was trying to fend off a group of soldiers.
Sneaking up on them, he was able to snatch guns from the holsters of
two men—9 mm. revolvers, it is believed—at which
point he commanded them to let the woman go. The chief among
them stood up and just laughed ath the young man in the cassock,
until Gabriel leveled the revolvers and commanded again. There
was still no reaction, but as a lizard scurried across the scene,
Gabriel blew it away with the gun in his left hand, without ever
taking his eyes off the soldier. The cowardly riffraff were
quick to leave, and the young girl returned home unharmed.
Again, we see activity fueled by contemplation; bravery
nourished by zeal for God's moral law.
if I may come back to Saint Paul for just a minute or two more.
Paul would not have been with Jesus when he spoke the parable we
heard in this morning's Gospel.
Nonetheless, since it is from Saint Like's Gospel, we can presume
that he heard it from Luke, as the two traveled together
extensively. The parable speaks of seeds falling on various
kinds of ground, sprouting or not, withering or growing,
accordingly. The seeds, we are told, is the word of God, and
the places they fell represent those who do or don't hear the word of
God, and how those who do hear it react to it. As a parable it
is very attractive, but it still has the limitations of a parable.
Reading the “adventures of Saint Paul” adds an additional
dimension to the parable.
seeds in the parable are inanimate. They fall where they may,
and have no control over where they fall. They might be moved
by the wind, or perhaps by an animal or insect—but they have no
control. People are different. Saint Paul was originally
an agent of the Temple; a persecutor of Christians—but he
allowed God to change him. With the grace of God, men and women
can do what the seeds cannot do—so to speak, they can alter
their locations in God's field. And, perhaps more to the point,
by being like Saint Paul, they can work together with God to move
other people to alter their locations in God's field. Paul's
adventure story was not some purposeless pastime, as others climb
dangerous mountains, or dive out of airplanes, or go white water
canoeing—his adventure was a partnership with God to move
people into a closer relationship with Him.
one of us in this church has a story. When life is done, each
will be unique. Some will more adventurous; some more
sedate. Some may actually go out and preach the Gospel as Paul
did in the synagogues and other places around the
Mediterranean. Others may be confined to teaching the Gospel to
their children or to a Sunday school class. Still others may do
no more than learn the Gospels for themselves. But each one of
these stories represents a partnership with God.
is the time to begin that partnership if you have not already
done so. Lent is nearly upon us, and it represents an ideal
time to “sign on” as His partner. Like Saint Paul,
you will find that your difficulties will be fully supported by His
grace. “Infirmities … reproaches ...
necessities ... persecutions ... distresses … [if
they are] for Christ.... then [you will be] powerful.”
If they are for Christ!
God spoke to Paul:
grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in