Would you have liked St Paul? I’m not sure that I would have. He is much easier to cope with as a saint (and therefore dead) and great Christian thinker and writer (whose corpus is now closed, so we can argue over it endlessly) than I think he might have been ‘in the flesh’. He had a mind like a razor, and a tongue almost as sharp when he chose (read Romans 1 again, if you think I exaggerate). His theology is dazzling; his protestations of affection endearing; but his use of self as an example is embarrassing to those of us who were brought up to avoid use of the personal pronoun (there are some things one simply doesn’t do, you see). And yet, when all’s said and done, the one thing we can all agree on is that St Paul cannot be ignored. He is a Colossus of the early Church, and his love for Christ so urgent and passionate that we are caught up into it.
Today, as we celebrate the feast of St Paul’s conversion and mark the close of the octave of prayer for Christian unity, that is the thought we need to hold onto. The conversion of one man changed the world. He didn’t have to be likable; he certainly didn’t court popularity; but his love for Christ and his Church made his whole life one great act of prayer and thanksgiving. All earlier failures were redeemed by his whole-hearted discipleship. I may not like St Paul, but I am very happy to ask the help of his prayers and learn from him.