st__paul_the_apostleI want to tell you about a criminal who escaped from justice even though he had committed terrible atrocities, including murder. He avoided punishment because the authorities who should have condemned him, were delighted that he was doing their dirty work for them. When he caught his victims, he had them flogged and thrown into prison before putting them to death. Who was this devil incarnate and what finally happened to him? He was a Jew called Saul who finally became a saint called Paul. He confessed his crimes to Jesus himself, as you can see if you read the Acts of the Apostles (22:17-21). Jesus not only forgave him but told him a great mystery, a secret that he had not told anyone whilst he was alive on earth, at least not the whole of it. We are preparing to celebrate the beginning of this secret, this mystery, in only a few weeks’ time, so I want to do for you what St Paul did for the very first Christians.

He explained to them that God lived in a place of such sublime splendour that it could never be surpassed. Unlike places of human grandeur it was not made of precious stones, or jewels, or silver, or gold, but of something infinitely superior. It was made of pure unadulterated ‘loving’ that never began and would never end. To have some idea of what it was, no, what it is like, use your imaginations and your memories for a moment. Remember that moment of utter bliss when you first fell in love; imagine how it possessed your whole being with utter joy. Now imagine that you have always experienced this since being born; imagine further that it never ended. When you have done that, then use your imagination again to multiply that experience by infinity. If you could do that, which of course you cannot, then you would have a very dim distant and diluted idea of the world of endless loving and giving in which God resides. On earth loving passes between two people, but in heaven it revolves between three

In perfect love there is no selfishness at all, so the person who experiences it just wants to share their happiness with others. That is why it was God’s plan from the very beginning to share his perfect joy with us. It is about this plan that St Paul wanted to tell everyone, so they could take part in it. In his letters St Paul called this plan, the Mysterion. If you have never heard this word before it is because you have only read St Paul’s letters in English, like me. But he first wrote them in Greek in which the word Mysterion is used to refer to ‘God’s secret plan’. This plan is to share the glorious happiness of living in a world of endless loving with others, whom he chose to create for that purpose.

It was St Paul who first told the world what they found so hard to believe, for who could have even imagined, even in their wildest dreams, in their most outrageous fantasies, that we are all called to live forever in unending bliss. The Greeks to whom he preached and for whom he was writing, had been brought up on the most outlandish stories about the gods that have ever been told, but none of them came near the stories that St Paul was teaching, and these stories were true. When they finally believed him, as so many did, they became Christians in their hundreds of thousands. After all, who would not want to go with him and his friends to an everlasting and joyful wonderland that no Alice could ever have conceived. If a one-time murdering assassin like Paul could hope to go there, why couldn’t they?

If his God was good enough to forgive him and make him into one of his greatest saints, then who could not be forgiven, for who had fallen lower than him? Forgiven, and all he had done forgotten? Even his wickedness would not prevent him going to the place that they had not even dreamed of. So, when he told them about God’s plans for them, they were only too ready to hear him detail this plan that could only be dreamed up by a god. This was not any god, but the God that Paul  taught them to believe in. Next week I want to tell you about this plan, God’s secret plan that all began on earth at an obscure, down and out place of no importance, called Nazareth in Galilee – a remote province known to the Romans as the place where revolutionaries were born!

First Published in The Catholic Universe for the First week in Advent.

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