We all have things in our past that haunt us – friends we’ve lost, cruel things we have said, inexcusable things we have done. St. Paul knew this feeling, the feeling of having squandered something that cannot be restored, the feeling of having done something that can not be taken back.
In the Book of Acts, Stephen is “full of grace and power,” and does “great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). But the people believe that Stephen is blaspheming when he preaches about Jesus and in their rage they drag Stephen outside of the city and begin to stone him. Paul is present at this terrible moment and approves of Stephen’s murder. Paul later says, “I myself was standing by, approving and keeping the coats of those who killed him” (Acts 22: 20).
In the same way that memories of our worst selves stick with us, the shameful moment of Stephen’s murder must have flashed before Paul’s eyes many times. But Paul did not wallow in self pity and guilt. No, he knew that God’s task for him was too great for that. When Paul was overwhelmed with his weakness, he cried out and the Lord responded with words that are meant not only for Paul but for each of us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Do we really believe this? Our weaknesses and sins are doors through which God’s power can overflow, if we open ourselves to his healing grace. If we wait until we are perfect to declare Jesus to the world, then we will never say a word. Jesus doesn’t call the perfect. Paul is a good example of this; God does not look for perfection in his disciples. Instead, God only looks for openness to his grace, which is all he needs to turn our weakness into something great.
We will make mistakes; we can count on it. Perhaps like Paul, we often say too much, or perhaps we never say enough. Maybe, like Paul, we are carried away by our emotions and sometimes say things that are hurtful. But if we spend our lives avoiding mistakes, then we make a greater mistake. As Blessed James Alberione once said, “He who does things makes mistakes (sometimes). But he who does nothing lives a continuous mistake.”
Looking to Paul, we can draw comfort from his checkered past, his fiery personality, and his forceful manner of communicating. All of these things the Lord used for good, not because Paul deserved it, but because that is just how our good God operates. So, our God calls us to come out of our embarrassment and shame, to emerge from our self-centered obsession with past mistakes. If we continue to live in shame and guilt, then we refuse God’s goodness—and that is truly the biggest mistake we could ever make.
Together, let us open our hearts to Jesus, to his forgiving mercy and grace. Although we do not deserve God’s mercy, he wants so much to give it to us anyway.
Sr. Theresa Noble, novice
Daughters of St. Paul