Like many of you, I consider the apostle Paul to be one of my favorite saints. I marvel at his theological development. I marvel at the tireless way he founded and built so many churches. I marvel at his courage and determination. In short, St. Paul is my hero.
When I learned that Pope Benedict XVI was dedicating an entire year to Paul (June 29, 2008 to June 29, 2009), I was especially excited. I immediately went and reread all of his letters. I reflected on his missionary journeys. I flashed back to his time and wondered how glorious it must have been to be with Paul—praying with him, seeing him at work, and hearing his dreams for the future of the church.
This month, just as the church is celebrating the two-thousandth anniversary of Paul's birth, we at The Word Among Us have decided to dedicate our annual saints issue to him. Believe me, it was an easy decision to make!
Walk through the Doors! Together with the Acts of the Apostles, Paul's letters tell us a lot about the early church—its message, its growth, and its challenges. But more than anything, these documents tell us how the Holy Spirit blessed the early church. They also tell us that the Spirit wants to bless us in the same way—since the promise was made "to you and to your children and to all those far off" (Acts 2:39). As we point out in the second article, Paul had his share of strengths and weaknesses, of light and darkness. Yet despite his flaws, he pressed on to the goal and bore great fruit.
I believe that Paul's example calls for a response from all of us. In my heart, I believe that God wants to bless our church in dramatic ways. We all know the statistics about declining church attendance, divorce and family divisions, the effects of alcohol and drugs, and widespread sexual immorality. Looking at all this data can make us lose hope. But I believe that God wants us to follow Paul's lead. His world had its own share of troubles, but rather than become defensive, Paul went on the offense. Rather than resignation, he chose hope. Rather than giving in, he gave the world the answer it needed—new life in Jesus.
So as we pay homage to St. Paul this year, let's imitate him as well. Let's get ready to talk about our faith with love and sincerity, free from self-righteousness. Let's go out and win the race through a renewed effort to evangelize. God will bless us just as he blessed Paul. He will open doors for us, but it's up to us to walk through them—just as Paul did.
Pope Benedict challenged us by saying, "Each one of you must have the courage to promise the Holy Spirit that you will bring one . . . person to Jesus Christ in the way you consider best." As you do, know that your efforts will bring Jesus abundant joy.