Beginning with an episode of the life of St. Paul, a meditation of Fr. Paolo Sottopietra on the priestly vocation, the life of a man who is fed by the enthusiasm for Christ, who gives himself to others for love of Him, who lives out of the gratitude for having been called.

From Christians of the 1st century, we have been handed down a surprising episode of the story of St. Paul that sheds light on the secret of the priestly life. The apostle is in Troad, an ancient coastal city near the actual Straight of Dardanelles. We find him in a room on the third floor of a private home, illuminated by torches while, outside, evening descends. He is speaking to a group of Christians, reunited there for Sunday Mass. Paul’s discourses, in which he comments the Scriptures, extends until midnight. At a certain point, a boy, who was listening propped up on the sill of a window, falls asleep, and then falls to his death through the same window.
After a few moments, everyone realizes what has happened and the meeting is brought to a halt. Paul is the first to run to the ground floor, where he goes outside and lies down next to the body of the boy. When he gets up, he immediately reassures the group: Do not be troubled: he is alive! He obtained from God an extraordinary miracle: he resuscitated a dead man with the same gestures performed so long ago by the prophet Elijah. He then goes back up into the illuminated room, leaving someone else to take care of the boy. The Mass goes on. Paul breaks the bread, distributes it and takes up his discourse again, until dawn. He has fixed his departure for the day after and offers to those who are listening all the time that remains of his visit, even the hours in which he would have rested.

We cannot but remain struck by such a strong desire to listen to the words of Paul. For hours and hours, the whole night, they stay to listen to him. Paul must have commented the Scriptures; he must have spoke of his relationship with Christ; he must have responded to the questions of those who wanted to understand something in a deeper way. Certainly, in the first years after the Resurrection of Jesus, the rite of the Mass was more similar to a familial meal than it is today, and these encounters could extend themselves, for that reason, in a natural way. But that evening, in Troad, not knowing if or when they would see him again, those present had another reason to get the most out of every minute and to absorb from such a unique testimony as much light as they could.
Even such an extraordinary fact as the death and resurrection of a child passes into second place; it does not disturb their attention even for a second. It’s true that, meanwhile, the boy has been lead back into the midst of the others, alive, and that all are relieved, sign that a comprehensible apprehension was not lacking among them. But the immediacy with which the Christians gathered there recollect themselves again and with which the celebration of the Mass is taken up again, after those few minutes of agitation, can be explained only by the kind of intense participation that was provoked in them by the announcement of Christ: a man that was God, who was dead and then rose, who Paul had met personally after His resurrection. A contemporary, one whose disciples could still be encountered; one who had worked miracles and healed the sick, who had taught with a new and beautiful wisdom, speaking of God and of man with an unmatchable certainty; one who had been put to death and then had appeared alive to many, after his death, in order to teach them to read the Scriptures, to make them understand how the prophets and the psalms had spoken of him; one who had risen to heaven in front of his closest friends. In a word, Paul was testimony of an event so extraordinary that those men would not have wanted to ever stop listening to him. The miracle worked by Paul did nothing but confirm that incredible truth: Christ was present! Only that fact gave sense to their existence and all their interest was concentrated on the one was bringing them this announcement.
On his part, Paul, after the encounter that had changed his life, would not have ever stopped speaking of Him. He had been knocked off his horse and blinded by a mysterious light, Jesus had appeared to him and had spoken to him. Then, he had been welcomed by the Christian community and had become aware of what great gift of mercy he had received. And last of all he appeared to me, as to one untimely born, he used to say, to me, who had been a blasphemer, a persecutor and violent. It is this wonder, full of pain and of emotion, that now pushes Paul to speak of Christ for hours and hours on end. He wants to explain to the others, better, he wants to represent in a living way to those who have not had a direct experience, that Jesus truly died on the cross and then rose again for each one of us, as was written centuries earlier in the holy books of the people of Israel. It is not anymore possible to live if not for him, because he died and rose for all.

This episode, one of the rare ones in which Paul is present to celebrate the Mass, reveals to us his priestly heart and, with it, the very essence of the priestly vocation. The priest is a man whose life springs from his enthusiasm for Christ. Caritas Christi urget nos. There is no other reason that pushes us to pray, to study, to teach, to give ourselves to the persons who are entrusted to us if not love of Him, the gratitude for having been personally called, saved and involved in His mission. The mind and all the affections of a priest are dominated by the desire to speak of Christ, so that all may know that He is present in the life of man, so that He may be known and loved.

 

(G. Gimignani, «San Paolo resuscita Eutico a Troade», 1639).

paolo sottopietra

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