Saint Paul was a man overwhelmed by the encounter with Christ: this is the destiny of every priest.

On July 2nd, 2022, ten young men lined up in front of the altar erected above the tomb of Saint Paul, waiting to be called by name to be consecrated priests and deacons. Then they prostrated themselves and received the imposition of the hands. The grand basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls will remain fixed in their memory forever. It is a circumstance that will remind them of the extraordinary missionary events of the Apostle to the Gentiles. A man of impetuous temperament with exceptional physical strength, a man who was gifted and cultured, St. Paul was overwhelmed by the encounter with the Risen Christ. The course of his life was changed. He passed from hostility to the faith to an untiring service of the early Christian community. He endured travels by sea and by land across the immense territory of the Mediterranean, bringing tidings of the unprecedented event that had reached him everywhere he went. In the synagogues, in the piazzas, in private homes, and even in the Areopagus of Athens he implored the Jews and Greeks to let themselves be reconciled with God through Christ. Saint Paul contemplated with wonder the mystery of the call that God addresses to all of humanity, and he knew that he was chosen to transmit this new consciousness to his people. The ancient Scriptures, that he had committed to memory in his studies as a Pharisee, were opened in front of him in the new light with which Christ had enveloped him on the road to Damascus. The heart of his message was constructed on his shocking rereading of scripture. His writings were to be praised by Saint Peter, copied and transmitted from community to community. To these communities, Saint Paul gave a new vision of history and of the Mystery of God. He exhorted all to make themselves worthy, he taught them to live according to a law of freedom, he encouraged them to await the return of Christ. In every city, before presenting himself to the gentiles, Saint Paul would present himself to

the members of the synagogue. He would be received with respect and hostility, he would be helped and he would suffer persecutions, risking his life many times. In the hardships that he faced, in an incredible adventure as a priest and a missionary, we find a rich, fully human experience. Saint Paul lived with daily anxiety for the fate of the newly converted and was preoccupied for the moral and material state of the community. His paternity was jealous and generous at the same time. He was severe with those who would endanger the fruit of his work or risk losing themselves in unfounded fables. He spoke with frankness, but he always invited all to forgive and to live reciprocal charity above all else. He was not afraid to manifest the affection that connected him to his friends or the nostalgia that he felt, he suffered intimately for the abandoned and the betrayed. He lived out his life as a singular protagonist, combined, however, with a candid virginity, which rendered him objective and intense in his preferences but alien to personalism, a transparent sign of Christ. The death sentence that would put an end to his race did nothing but stamp for eternity an existence spent entirely for Him.

Let’s return to those ten young men, spread out in line in front of the altar of the confession of the Apostle. In these years they have prepared themselves, studying and learning to live together, but above all asking God to enter into the mystery of the voice that called them one day. The passion that brings them to go out in all the world was nourished in a profound silence, in dialogue with Him that came to take them, pulling some of them from a disordered life, in others confirming an attraction felt from childhood, leading all of them together to become part of a new home that, for years now, has safeguarded the deepening of their relationship with Him.

It comes naturally to associate their experience with that of Paul in the first years he spent in Arabia after his conversion. Perhaps the future apostle felt the need to distance himself physically from the environment in which he was known; perhaps it was the desire for solitude,

the need to reflect, that moved him. In any case, it is God who suggested this retreat, because he wants to teach us something. Divo Barsotti once wrote: “God didn’t need Saul’s greatness: he needed his silence; He didn’t need Saul’s gifts: he needed his faith.” These words seem to me to describe well the itinerary of our house of formation. Paul lived in silence for three years, a period necessary to absorb the immense richness of the graces received, of the light that he had seen, of the words that he had heard addressed to him. Three years, lived far away from the clamor of the crowd and the dangers of his travels, to grow in awareness of the fact that he was saved by the pure initiative of God, even while he was a brute and a blasphemer. Three years, to then live the rest of his life sustained by gratitude and a joyous sense of debt. If Christ died and rose for me, we must never tire of repeating it, then I must live for him. Looking at the excited and happy faces of our ten friends on the day of their ordination, we can see a reflection of the same deep awareness.

In the photo, the moment of vesting during the celebration of the priestly and diaconate ordinations, in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, July 2nd, 2022

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