St. Paul Logo Graphic

January 26, 2009

The Son of God "emptied himself" and became human. No glory seeker, Jesus lived a mostly obscure life in Nazareth and then, when he did come to public attention, he allowed himself to be mocked and put to death in a most unseemly manner.

In my last two articles, I discussed the paradox of a God whose glory is revealed through weakness. What does Christ's suffering mean for us?

For sure, it carves a path to salvation. But it also says a lot about how we are to live. Christ did not die in ignominy so that we could bop until we drop. We are to have the same mind that was in Christ.

St. Paul is scandalized by those who "live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is the belly and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things" (Philippians 3:18-19).

The opponents of Paul believed that the sign of a true apostle was the ability to perform miracles. But Paul counters, "I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Real conversion comes about when one lives out God's merciful love made evident by Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Cardinal Carlo Martini suggests that Paul underwent a second conversion after he failed to persuade the intellectuals in Athens to follow Christ (The Gospel According to St. Paul, chapter 8). The Athenian philosophers laughed Paul out of town when he started to talk about the resurrection of the dead.


From Athens, Paul went to Corinth where he did have success in preaching Christ crucified to people who lacked the noble heritage and so-called wisdom of those in Athens.

Real conversion comes about when one preaches God's merciful love made evident by Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Our call through Baptism is not to live a comfortable life, but to share in Christ's sufferings.

The Corinthians valued worldly success too. But Paul strove to teach them that the way of Jesus is the way of self-sacrificing love. He recommended that they use what he called "weapons of righteousness" in their ministry (2 Cor. 6:4-7).

Some of those weapons are easy to understand and easy to take – purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God. But others are things that few would choose to seek out – afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labours, watching and hunger.

The use of weapons of righteousness is a badge of one's integrity as a follower of Christ. It shows that the disciple is not proclaiming Christ for his or her own gain. It also means that one's success in proclaiming the Gospel is due to God's power, not one's own cleverness.

The suffering Church is often the Church that bears the most fruit. The Church that is poor or persecuted is often the Church that is most dedicated to service and that overflows with conversions and religious vocations. When Christians get focused on their own comfort, the faith can be disfigured.


That does not means we should seek a Church that is constantly subject to oppression and nastiness. Far from it. We should resist oppression. We should also act prudently so as not to endanger ourselves or others.

Often, however, suffering comes unavoidably. When that happens, suffering can be an occasion of joy for sharing in the passion of Christ. Several times in his letters, Paul lists his own sufferings to show that God has helped him out of situations in which he has been helpless. Suffering is, in fact, the way that Paul proclaims the Gospel.

In my last article, I noted that through his death, Jesus became nothing so that the Father could fill that emptiness with the fullness of his being.

That is, to an extent, an option for us too. When we share in the sufferings of Christ, we too share in his glory. It is when we become most fully human.