Feast day: June 29
DIED C. 65
St. Paul’s letters make up nearly half of the New Testament, from which the Church is taught Sunday after Sunday. Paul’s influence and reach cannot be underestimated. Not only is he one of the most significant and important Christians in our history, but also arguably one of the most influential persons in human history.
This all originated from Paul’s experience with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus, which led to the conversion of this one-time persecutor of Christians. The encounter Paul had with Christ was so real, in his view, it was no different than the encounters Christ had with the Twelve while in their midst. Paul’s unique experience shaped and informed the early Church so significantly, that Paul himself has become regarded as the “Thirteenth Apostle.”
Paul’s encounter with Christ was rooted in a tremendous Eucharistic faith. He came to know in his experience on the road to Damascus that his persecution of Christ’s followers was a persecution of Christ himself. The nascent Christians that Paul wanted to extinguish were one with Christ, members of his body by baptism, a bond strengthened and intensified through reception of his body in the Eucharist. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56).
Paul believed to the core of his being that the Eucharist is Christ’s very body and blood. He proclaimed and taught that Christ’s Eucharistic presence is real.
Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord not only resulted in his conversion but also his efforts to both increase the membership of Christ’s body and teach about the ramifications of the new life that incorporation brings. Paul’s aim was to build up a community of believers who lived like they had “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14). This is what shaped and motivated the impressive missionary undertakings in his desire to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Paul believed to the core of his being that the Eucharist is Christ’s very body and blood. He proclaimed and taught that Christ’s Eucharistic presence is real. Illustrating this, he wrote: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Cor 10:16). Not only is Christ’s Eucharistic presence real for Paul, but by it Christ dwells in us, he changes us, he is united with us. So real is our incorporation into Christ’s body, Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19-20). Paul’s preaching and teaching necessitated conversion for salvation and the building up of a community defined by virtuous living, in which “the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13).
Paul’s account of the Last Supper is among the earliest surviving texts, so vital to his preaching was Christ’s desire for us to celebrate the memorial of his passion and death. Paul also, warning about the seriousness of Eucharistic participation, wrote: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup” (1 Cor 11:27-28).
St. Paul’s own martyrdom brought to completion a life lived completely in and for Christ. Paul exhorts Christians to give Christ “glory in the Church” (Eph 3:21), which means we are all called to give witness to Christ by our lives. While some might be called to do so to the extent of offering their very life by dying for Christ and the Church, we are all called to offer our lives to him and in his service. Like Paul, then, we live in a Eucharistic manner by offering all of ourselves “as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1).
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV’s Simply Catholic. He writes from Indiana. Taken from the “Inspired by the Eucharist” saint booklet.