(1 Corinthians 4: 9-16)
In today’s passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, the Holy Apostle speaks of his close relationship to the Christians of Corinth. “For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me” (verses 15-16). He declares, through the saving “οἰκονομία" (economy) of Jesus Christ, that they are his spiritual children and that they should look to his example.
St. Paul cared deeply for not just the Christians of Corinth, but all whom he had preached the Gospel to. He looked on them with love and affection, watching their progress in the Faith. Whenever they had a problem, he rushed to help, with correction, encouragement and to strengthen them. The Apostle Paul took great care to imitate Christ in all that he did. In doing this he became a living “Letter of Christ….that was not written with ink but by the Spirit of the Living God” (2 Corinthians 3:3). With this vivid example, he reinforced all that he spoke in his words and letters. St. Paul taught that all preachers of the Gospel and clergy should live in this way, to provide a model for Christians to imitate. To guide the faithful with their way of life first, forging ahead on the road leading to heaven, and not just talking about it.
Being this shining light is not just for clergy, but for all believers. St. Paul calls on all Christians to “imitate me.” How can the faithful imitate this great Saint, who ascended to the third heaven, suffered physical hardships, deprivation, persecution, imprisonment and stoning? Where miracles were done with just a handkerchief or scarf that had touched him. How is this even possible? The answer is that we are not to live St. Paul’s life, but to be like him, as St. Paul himself said to King Agrippa as he was being judged in Caesarea: “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become….such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29).
How exactly can this be done? Let us look at two things that are absolutely necessary:
-His humility. St. Paul applied the words of Sirach: “The greater you are, the more humble you must be, and you will find grace before the Lord” (Sirach 3:18). While he was personally chosen by Jesus Christ after His Ascension to become an Apostle, St. Paul declared his unworthiness to be even called an Apostle (see 1 Corinthians 15:9). As time passed and his mission is succeeding to great glory, his humility only increased. He wrote to his spiritual son St. Timothy: “I am the first among all the sinners” (see 1 Timothy 1:15).
If we really wanted to humble ourselves by the grace of Our Lord, in imitation of St. Paul, we can do it. What is stopping us?
His love. The Holy Apostle felt in his soul how Christ’s love for him deepened over time. As Saul, he was an enemy of Christ, persecuting His disciples. Christ loved him, forgave him, redeemed him, and honored him by making him His Apostle. The truth of this shook him, and his life completely changed. Since then, he tried to imitate the Lord with all of this strength. He looked to the Lord’s sacrifice for him and for all. As an Apostle, he too sought to be sacrificed for the Lord and his friends, but also for his enemies! Not only his life, but he would also give up his soul if it would save the Jewish people, who attempted to hurt and kill him many times (see Romans 9:3).
My brothers and sisters, let us struggle to humbly acquire the great virtues necessary to grow in the spiritual life, in imitation of St. Paul. The ultimate fruit of this struggle being love.