Photo: Marie Romagnano
Father Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, called St. Paul "very human," and noted the similarities between the great saint and St. Faustina.
By Dan Valenti (Jul 21, 2009)
A confession: I don't like to "evangelize." As a writer, I have a skeptical streak that, as a first instinct, puts tough questions to most propositions and assertions. My reasoning is this: If the assertion has the merit of truth, it will withstand the most withering inquiry. If not, it will cave in under my rhetorical assault.
Consequently, I'm generally hesitant to evangelize for the risk of presumption. There's a fine line between sharing and spinning, between proselytizing and propaganda.
"Who am I to presume what's good for someone else?" That's the question that can hold me back. Then I look to St. Paul, the greatest evangelist of all time.
I look at Paul, and I realize that a missionary does not work from presumption but out of love. It's not that I presume too much. It's that I don't love enough.
A Panacea that Trumps Presumption
Allow me to conduct a thought experiment. If I invented a serum that would turn all hearts away from hate into a full embrace of love, would I keep it to myself? No. Would I think it presumptuous to share this panacea or confuse the effort with trying to tell someone else how to live his or her life? Would it be propagandistic to leave someone better off than when you found him? No. I'd want to share the elixir for the good it would do.
Well, I possess such a panacea. I didn't invent it. I simply discovered it anew. It's called God's mercy. Mercy is an ethereal type of forbearance our loving Creator freely bestows on us, his failure-vexed, fault-ridden creatures. We only need to accept this precious gift to receive its pre-eminent grace.
Oh yeah: We must do one more thing. We must pass it on.
That is how I partially understand my role as an "evangelist." Through the writing I do for the Marian Fathers specifically and the Catholic press in general, I try to share some aspect of God's goodness, love, and mercy with others.
Enter St. Paul.
Saint Paul holds the distinction of being the greatest missionary in the history of the Church. In fact, without Paul's evangelistic work and literary output, it's hard to imagine what the Church would have become. Surely, it would have followed a far different course.
In honor of the 2,000th birthday of this great man, on June 27 the Marian Apostolates co-presented a conference titled, "Following in the Footsteps of St. Paul: Divine Mercy and Evangelization." Fittingly enough, the conference took place in St. Paul, Minn., at the College of St. Catherine, Divine Mercy of the Midwest co-sponsored the gathering. About 180 attended.
'Trust is Essential'
At the conference, Dr. Bryan Thatcher, M.D., director of Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM), focused on the intersection between evangelization and trust.
"Trust is the essential aspect in courage required to spread the Word of God," Dr. Thatcher said, calling evangelization "a primary responsibility" for Catholics. He noted the inextricable link between evangelization and the message of The Divine Mercy, given by Jesus Himself through St. Faustina. Dr. Thatcher said, "Jesus told us to trust in Him. Trust is easy when things are going well but hard when difficulties arise."
Dr. Thatcher reminded participants of the "great grace" there is in suffering, noting that trust in Jesus and in God's mercy provides sufficient means to endure hardships in a spiritually productive way. He said the life of St. Paul illustrates this in "a vital way."
Paul Regan, an EADM lay evangelist from Boston, Mass., used the life of St. Paul to illustrate several key spiritual concepts.
"God is more powerful than discouragement," Regan noted. "Just as St. Paul did, we struggle between doing our will vs. God's will. The Chaplet of The Divine Mercy is a way of returning to God. It is our great weapon against discouragement and uncertainty."
Regan noted, "The evil one presents us with many distractions and discouragements to turn us away from God, but God is more powerful than evil and discouragement."
St. Paul: 'Human, All too Human'
Father Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, director of evangelization and development for the Marian Fathers, called St. Paul "very human," and noted the similarities between the great saint and St. Faustina. Both wrote that God "gives us the grace to do the things He calls us to do," and both "obeyed God's will not out of obligation but out of love." Both faced doubts and difficulties, both had to endure great suffering, and both showed the determination and resolve that we know as "trust."
Father Kaz then had wise advice for conference participants: "We shouldn't be afraid of our weaknesses. When we look at how inadequate we are, we limit ourselves, but when we ask for the strength to do God's will, He invariably gives us that strength."
Other presenters included Dave and Joan Maroney of Mother of Mercy Messengers; Marie Romagnano, director of Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy; Annie Karto, who spoke on the Blessed Mother's role in evangelization and also sang songs (described by one participant as "beautiful and moving") about Our Lady, the priesthood, and trust in God.
The event began with morning Mass and ended with Benediction, praying the chaplet, and a blessing from Fr. Kaz. Confessions also were heard throughout the day, and organizers built a small, makeshift Adoration chapel adjacent to the auditorium.
"Many people were excited and thrilled at the end of the day, as well as renewed," a participant said. "Many were asking how to take the message of Divine Mercy into their daily lives."
'I am Jesus'
There's probably not a Christian alive who doesn't know Saint Paul's story. We know of his famous conversion, where he's knocked to the ground by a heavenly light and hears a voice asking, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" He asks who is speaking to him. The voice answers, "I am Jesus" (Acts 9:4-5).
Interestingly, Acts of the Apostles tells of numerous, specific details of Paul's early life, unusual for a man who lived 2,000 ago. Piecing together these items, we can fashion a historically accurate biography of St. Paul's early years.
He was born in Tarsus in Cilicia. Paul tells us so, in Acts 21:39. Later in Acts, we learn that his father was a citizen of Rome who came from a pious family (2 Tim 1:3) that followed the beliefs and observances of the Pharisees (Phil 3:5-6).
He belonged to the tribe of Benjamin, and his father named him Saul. By virtue of his father's lineage, Saul was a Roman citizen and also bore the Latin name of Paul. Saul learned the trade of a tent maker, which he used to support himself. As a boy, as we learn in Acts 22:3, he attended the school of Gamaliel, where he studied law. Later, in Acts 23:16, we learn that the son of one of Paul's sisters saved his life.
Then something odd happens. He falls off the radar screen. We don't know much more about the man until he turns up (Acts 7:58-60; 22:20) in dubious fashion: We see him in a hand-on role in the martyrdom of St. Stephen. He had fallen into the fashion of the times, becoming a zealous persecutor of Christians.
Hope, Even Springing from a Murderous Past
Paul's murderous past has for centuries given sinners hope of and in God's mercy. I've often thought of the literalness of Paul's early evil deeds of taking an active role in murdering people because of their religious convictions. Divine Mercy, however, took this great sinner and entrusted him with a great role in the spread of Christianity.
After his conversion, Paul worked tirelessly and traveled exhaustively to share the Good News. Naturally, we cannot match both the quality and quantity of St. Paul (or for that matter, we likely can't match him for his early depth of sin!). Fortunately, God does not ask us to do that. He only asks that we take our present station in life and look for ways to spread mercy, goodness, and compassion.
To this desire we apply our imagination and determination. God takes care of the rest.
Saint Paul went on to do great works. We may think our works pale in comparison, but that would be sizing up apples against oranges. Within our own lives, with our talents and limitations, through our interests and energies, we, too, can do great works.
Nothing can be greater than receiving the heartfelt knowledge of God's goodness and sharing it with others through our lives we live. At that point, we are "spiritually sharing," a phrase I like better than "evangelism."
Like St. Paul, we will not account our lives of value or being precious to ourselves, except that we fulfill our missionary call — in whatever way best suits our specific situations — to "testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
Sarah Chichester contributed reporting for this piece.
Dan Valenti writes for numerous publications of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, both in print and online. He is the author of Dan Valenti's Mercy Journal.