May 2, 2012 - Memorial of Saint Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Acts 12:24 -- 13:5
Psalm 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
John 12:44-50

It is possible, because of the structure of the book of Acts, to seriously misunderstand St. Paul. We read about his conversion, and then, a few chapters later, we read about how he is chosen to go on a mission to preach to the whole world. Of course, St. Paul had studied Jewish law for years before his conversion, but he was still not ready. The events of today’s reading happened thirteen years after St. Paul’s conversion. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was St. Paul.

We know some of what happened during those thirteen years, but they are mostly a mystery. St. Paul was a Christian for 33 years before he died, and he only preached the Gospel for the last twenty. The life of St. Paul should teach us two very important lessons. First, preparation is extremely important. When someone first has a conversion, they are usually very excited to preach the Gospel. They should not. Much damage has been done in the Church by people who begin preaching too soon after their conversion.

Tertullian, an early Christian theologian, is a prime example of this. At age 37 he converted to Christianity. He spent the next 10 years writing some of the most important books that have ever been written in Christian theology. By age 47, he had joined a group of heretics and split off from the Church. When a new convert becomes a teacher too quickly, pride follows. The most important lesson St. Paul learned in those thirteen years was humility. He never could have become the great apostle that he was without superhuman humility.

The second lesson we should learn from St. Paul’s life is how much a person can accomplish in twenty years. When we think of everything St. Paul is remembered for, it all happened within twenty years. It is easy to waste twenty years in front of the television or surfing the internet. Imagine what we could do in the next twenty years if we all stopped wasting time and started working. Some of you are just beginning to walk seriously with Jesus Christ, are just beginning your own thirteen years of preparation. Some of you ought to be out converting the world by now. Imagine what God could accomplish if, starting today, starting right now, we put aside every vestige of selfishness and committed ourselves perfectly, uncompromisingly, to love God and our neighbor.