Father Chevrier saw Saint Paul as the model of the apostle, the model of the priest. While examining the Gospels, he never ceased to listen to what the Holy Spirit could reveal to him from the study of Paul's texts. This work is continued here in a consistent meditation on the ministry of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Saint Paul was a man "chosen by God" who was aware that he had been "set apart" by him on the road to Damascus, who matured his faith in the house of Ananias for a single task: "to proclaim the Gospel" to the world. The Acts of the Apostles show him being sent with Silas on an initial mission to Samaria, then to Asia Minor, and finally to the heart of the empire. He took the main Roman roads and sought out meeting places. Here he went to the synagogues to tell the people of the covenant about the New Covenant, and there he went to the squares and roads, by the river and in the theatres. In this, he imitates the Master who went to the synagogues and homes, as well as to the temple and the well. Like Jesus, Paul seeks out men and women moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Gospel study, we will try to understand how Paul lived out his ministry and identify some of its characteristics.
I - PAUL: A MINISTRY OF FOUNDATION THROUGH THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE GOSPEL
I.1 – When Paul arrives in a community, he seeks to understand and reach the people to whom he has been sent. Thus, with regard to the Corinthians "I became a Jew with the Jews, that I might win the Jews; a subject of the Law with the subjects of the Law - I, who am not a subject of the Law - that I might win the subjects of the Law. I became a Jew with the Jews, that I might win the Jews; a subject of the Law with the subjects of the Law - I, who am not a subject of the Law - that I might win the subjects of the Law. I made myself lawless with the lawless - I who am not without a law from God, being under the law of Christ - that I might win the lawless. I made myself weak with the weak, that I might win the weak. I became all things to all men, that I might save some at all costs. And all this I do for the sake of the Gospel. (1Co 9, 19-22). He looks at the people to whom the Word is addressed. He spoke in a Jewish way with the Jews, explaining the preparations for the Messiah through the history of the Hebrew people. In Antioch of Pisidia, he revisited the whole of Scripture. He shows how God speaks to his people and acts for his people, culminating in Jesus, whom God resurrects: "We also bring you this good news: the promise God made to the fathers was fully fulfilled for us, their children, when he raised Jesus from the dead". (Acts 13) But, with the pagans, he will refer to the God of creation, of the sky, the earth and the stars. "Friends, what are you doing here? We too are men, subject to the same fate as you, men who tell you to abandon all these vain idols and turn to the living God who made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them. In past generations he let all the nations go their own way, but he did not fail to bear witness to his good deeds, giving you rain and fertile seasons from heaven, filling your hearts with food and happiness...". (Acts 14, 15-17).
I.2 - He always sought to graft religious knowledge and his approach to the world onto the Good News of the Gospel, because God has always been at work since the creation of the world. When he came to Athens, he tried to reach Greek wisdom, but his message was little received; in Corinth, he listened to the poor, uneducated people. He knew how big the city was, with all the different cultures typical of large ports. Were there 500,000 citizens, slaves, prostitutes, rich and poor? Perhaps not, but the city was very large, with a cosmopolitan population, with its trade and its approximate morality. To this city marked by various forms of poverty, he decided to proclaim Christ, poor and crucified. This is how he wanted to give the face of the poor Christ to the Corinthians, so that through their poverty they might come to know this God who is so surprising. "When I came to you, brothers, I did not come to announce the mystery of God with the prestige of words or wisdom. No, I wanted to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ crucified. I myself came to you weak, fearful and trembling; my words and my message were not the persuasive speeches of wisdom; they were a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest, not on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God". (1 Cor 2, 1-5).
I.3 - Paul testifies to a deep conviction: the foundation of a community is ultimately the person of Christ. He says so himself in chapter 3 "According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a good architect I laid the foundation. For no one can lay a foundation other than the one who is on it, namely Jesus Christ". (1 Cor 3). The founding ministry of a Pauline community is to allow Christ to be the basis and principle of discipleship and community life. How he would like all pagans to have access to such grace! He who saw himself as sent to preach to all Gentiles "the obedience of faith (Ro 1,5).
- Do we take enough time to look at the human situation in a country, a town, a district or a village, at mentalities and everything that shapes people's lives? What effort do we make to listen and to develop our spiritual intelligence with a view to founding the Church of God among those who are furthest away and the poorest?
- Paul knew how to make himself close, Jewish with the Jews, Greek with the Greeks, so that the message could be heard and people could enter the world. "in communion with the Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Lord". (1 Cor 1, 2-9). How close is our ministry?
- We hear Father Chevrier say: "We must therefore build on Jesus Christ, on his word and put it into practice, and our house will be built on the rock". VD 103 "It is he who must be sought and laid down as the foundation of everything". VD 103, Ms X 21
II - PAUL: A PASTORAL MINISTRY OF ACCOMPANIMENT AND EDIFICATION
II.1 - THE When Paul founded a community, he did not abandon it. He lasts with it, especially if the situation is delicate. The situation of the Corinthians was precarious. The small community was made up of poor people, suffering from internal divisions (1,10-12 and 3,3-4), troubled by the misconduct and debauchery of some of its members (5,1 sv, 6,9-10 and 18), by problems with the pagans over meat sacrificed to idols (8 and 10), and by a dispute over the ministry (Co 9 and 2).
II.2 - THE This is the reason for his constant apostolic efforts. He sent letters, 4 probably to the Corinthians; he sent one that had no effect. He then sent Timothy (1 Cor 4:17), who helped to sort out the problems, reminding them of "the principles of life in Christ" (1 Cor 4:17) and that "the Lord is the Lord" (1 Cor 4:17). "The kingdom of God consists not in words but in deeds. (1 Cor 4:20). Paul himself sent this first canonical letter, in which he tried to respond point by point to bring the community back into the spirit of the covenant. He did so with confidence. Let's take one example, the case of misconduct: "Purify yourselves from old leaven," he writes, "for Christ our Passover has been sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7). Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit? (1 Cor 6:15 and 19). Let's take the relationship with the Gentiles. Paul writes "For us there is only one God, the Father, from whom all things come and to whom we go, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist and through whom we are. (1 Cor 8:6) and adds a point of reference for those who have discovered the newness of faith: "through your knowledge the weak perish, the brother for whom Christ died". (1 Cor 8:11); "by wounding the conscience of the weak, you sin against Christ". (1 Cor 8:11). Let's take the case of praying in tongues: What's the point of praying to God if the prayer doesn't help to edify the brethren in an enlightened thanksgiving, or if it scandalises the uninitiated? "Let everything be done in such a way as to edify". (1 Cor 14:26), and he adds: "God is not a God of disorder but of peace". (1 Cor 14:33).
II.3 - THE Through these examples, we can see how Paul is working to put the Corinthians back on the path of discipleship. He is not primarily moral. He refocuses on God's plan, on the mystery of Christ, and on the meaning of the poor brother who must be respected; on these points, he is insistent in chapter 10 (14-31), showing the newness of the Paschal meal, the freedom of the children of God and at the same time the necessary respect for others: " " Everything is permitted, but not everything is profitable. "Everything is permitted, but not everything edifies. Let no one seek his own interest, but that of others". (1 Cor 10:23-24). 2.4 - All these efforts are aimed at communicating the life of Christ. Titus was again sent to Corinth, but the situation had hardly changed. Paul then decided to leave for Corinth (2 Cor 13:2), but he was confronted. He left abruptly. It was in this letter, the second in the canon, written "in tears", that he explained his ministry to them. He sent Titus again (2 Cor 2:13). The mission was a good one (2 Cor 7:13). Another letter and another visit from Paul. He was determined that the community should be built up in Christ. "It is before God in Christ that we speak. And all this, beloved, for your edification" (2 Cor 12:29). He himself took care to work with his hands so as not to put any obstacle in the way of receiving the Word of God. He was not a burden to anyone (2 Cor 9) and did not use his right as an apostle: he wanted to offer a ministry that was free of charge: "Yes, woe to me if I did not preach the Gospel! If I took the initiative in this task, I would be entitled to a reward; if I don't, it's a burden entrusted to me. So what is my reward? It is that in proclaiming the Gospel, I offer the Gospel freely, without using the right conferred on me by the Gospel". It's a painful begetting, out of fidelity to God's plan and love for the community; and all of it in pain: "Toil and fatigue, frequent vigils, hunger and thirst, repeated fasts, cold and nakedness! Not to mention the rest, my daily obsession, the concern of all the Churches! Who is weak, that I am not weak? Who falls, that a fire does not burn me? (2 Cor 11:27-29). And this begetting is an act of the Risen Christ acting "in the person" of Paul: "Since you are looking for proof that Christ speaks in me, he who is not weak in your regard but is strong among you. It is true that he was crucified because of his weakness, but he is alive through the power of God. And we too are weak in him, of course, but we will live with him through the power of God over you. (2 Cor 13). This begetting consists, through his compassionate life, in bringing Christ-like people into being: "For if you have thousands of teachers in Christ, you do not have many fathers; for I have brought you forth through the Gospel in Christ Jesus. So I beg you, show yourselves to be my imitators". (1 Cor 4:15). 2.5 - We then enter into the contemplative gaze of Paul, filled with faith in the action of the Spirit at the very heart of his efforts: "You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men. Clearly you are a letter from Christ entrusted to our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, on your hearts" And he adds "It's not because of some personal ability that we can make our own, it's from God that our ability comes".. Contemplative and collaborator of the Spirit! This is Paul's link to the community. We find this same attachment to the community, born in the Spirit, right from Paul's apostolic beginnings. Lynched at Iconium, he returned there some time later to strengthen the nascent community: "After proclaiming the Good News in that city and making quite a few disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the hearts of the disciples and urged them to persevere in the faith: It is necessary for us," they said, "to pass through many distresses in order to enter the Kingdom of God. In each Church they appointed elders for them, made fasting prayers and entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith". (Acts 14). When Paul passed through Miletus, he recounted how he had spared no effort to "educate Jews and Greeks in public and in private of the mystery of God, in order, by his testimony of "convert to him and believe in our Lord Jesus". (Acts 14:21). And he adds "So I can testify before you today: I am clean of everyone's blood. I have not neglected anything: on the contrary, it is the whole plan of God that I have announced to you". (Acts 20). Corinth, Iconium, Miletus: meetings where we understand Paul's concern for all the Churches, for those he brings to faith, "the seal of my apostolate" (1 Cor 9:2). Like a shepherd, he takes care of the flock, refocusing it on the true Shepherd and on his brothers and sisters, especially the poorest. He labours for the flock entrusted to him.
- We can ask ourselves: what love do we have for the communities entrusted to us and to which we are given? What keeps us going in times of sorrow?
- In the name of the Risen Christ, what ministry do we live out in leading the community (building it up, accompanying it, putting it back on the road to the Gospel, in what way do we "take up again", as Father Chevrier put it)?
- What does "begetting in Christ" mean for our ministry?
- How can we rediscover the ministry of Father Chevrier?
III - PAUL: A MINISTRY AS FORMATOR OF COMMUNITY LEADERS
III.1 - THE Paul had a sense of the long term; he called leaders and entrusted them to the Lord. We see this in his ministry in Asia. "In every church, Paul and Barnabas appointed elders, made prayers with young people and entrusted them to the Lord, in whom they had put their faith" (14:23). Paul appoints elders in whom he discerns faith and who are filled with the Holy Spirit; he soaks them in faith through prayer and fasting, and entrusts them to the Lord, in a bond of belonging. Paul could then leave Iconium knowing that it was the Lord who would be their support, just as he would leave Miletus, entrusting those in charge "to God and to his word of Grace, which has the power to build the edifice and provide an inheritance for all who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32).
III.2 - THE But in handing over these leaders to God and to his plan of salvation for humanity, Paul commits them to being watchmen themselves on two points. First, he commits them to watch over themselves by taking care of the grace of God that has been given to them and the deposit of the Gospel that has been entrusted to them. "Secondly, he urges them to watch over the whole flock, to "take care of the whole flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians" (Acts 2:28). Is it not," he tells them, "the whole Church of God that is to be nourished according to the plan of his grace, the Church that he has purchased with his own blood? He forms apostles of God who are contemplatives of his community: it bears the mark of God, in the blood of Christ. God has done his work in it; it belongs to God.
III.3 - THE In so doing, he opened those responsible to the greatness of this service, that of nurturing such a people, saved and sanctified by the blood of Christ. Paul's ministry, "marked with the seal of the Spirit appears to be that of a witness dedicated to this people saved by the blood of Christ and who calls on leaders to imitate him: "Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1), he, Paul, bearing in his flesh the marks of the passion of the Lord Jesus: "I bear in my body the marks of Jesus". (Gal 6:17). The question for us then is:
- How do we form community leaders in the manner of Paul, in an action that consists of discernment, soaking in prayer, in asceticism, in the awareness of belonging to God, in the awareness of the mystery of the Church, in the greatness of the service of such a mystery?
IV - PAUL: A MINISTRY SHARED WITH COLLABORATORS
No doubt Paul's temperament did not make his co-workers feel at ease. But his ministry was often carried out with collaborators of whom he speaks with affection. Let us evoke Titus "my brother (2 Cor 2:13), "my companion and collaborator (2 Cor 8:23); "Thanks be to God, who put the same zeal for you into the heart of Titus" (2 Cor 8:16); "did we not walk in the same spirit? (2 Cor 12:18). Timothy is qualified "He will remind you of my principles of life in Christ". (1 Cor 4:17). And then there is Silas (Acts 18:5) and that other brother (unidentified) of whom "the Churches sing praises of the Gospel" (2 Cor 8:18), the one "whose zeal we have often tested". (2 Cor 8:22); (2 Cor 12:18). In many cities, Paul liked to work with people who had come to Christ. For him, they were witnesses to the Gospel and relays in his apostolic work. In Corinth, we meet a good number of people: Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:2 and 18 and 16:19), Titius Justus (Acts 18:7) Crispus (Acts 18:8), Sosthenes (Acts 18:17 and 1 Cor 1:1), the people of Chloe (1 Cor 1:11), Appolos (1 Cor 16:12), Stephanas and his family (1 Cor 16:15); Fortunatus and Archaicus (1 Cor 16:17). This shared ministry is a team ministry. Each person has a place in the mission, based on his or her own situation. In this way, the Gospel is spread from relay to relay.
- Many of our apostolic fields in the world of the poor are similar to that of Corinth. The Gospel has difficulty reaching the hearts, minds and structures of society. What collaborators are we looking for, and how are we looking for them, to bring the Gospel closer to people's lives?
- How do we train them? How do we work with them in a spirit of fraternal affection (especially in countries where there are Pastoral Animation Teams)?
V - PAUL: A MINISTRY OF COMMUNION WITH CHRIST, THE SERVANT OF THE FATHER'S PLAN
Paul is extremely conscious of being with his companions, "servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. (1 Cor 4:1). In nothing does he "seek his glory and put no value on his life". (Acts 20). He is a man, in the words of Father Chevrier, who "wants to be like his master", doing the work of the Father.
V.1 - That is why we see Paul going out as one sent on a mission: "There were prophets and teachers in the local church at Antioch: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, a boyhood companion of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. One day while they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said: "Keep Barnabas and Saul in reserve for me, therefore, for the work for which I have appointed them. Then, after fasting and praying and laying their hands on them, they gave them leave". (Acts 13). At the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul himself reveals his apostolic conscience: "Paul called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God" (1 Cor 1:1) (also Rom 1:1): "Paul, servant of Christ Jesus, apostle by vocation, set apart to proclaim the Gospel of God"..
V.2 - We still see him obeying the Spirit in events. In Pisidia, when the Jews rejected him, he turned to the pagans: "Paul and Barnabas had the audacity to declare: "The word of God should have been addressed to you first! Since you reject it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we turn to the Gentiles. (Acts 13). In the conflict that led to his being judged by the emperor, he saw "the opportunity (Romans 1:10) to take the Gospel to Rome. He let himself be led by the Spirit.
V.3 - Even in apostolic suffering he wants to be like his master. "At the moment, We read in the letter to the ColossiansI find my joy in the sufferings I endure for you, and I complete in my flesh what is lacking in Christ's trials for his Body, which is the Church". (Col 1). In this way, he is in conformity and familiarity with the language of the cross. "The language of the cross is indeed foolishness to those who are lost, but to those who are being saved, to us it is the wisdom of God". (1 Cor 1:18). Paul preached with confidence and without fear "But to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, he is Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God".
V.4 - He preached with the confidence that the Risen Crucified One would be welcomed by the poor. They are the " called "the "chosen of God : "Consider, brethren, who you are who have received the call of God: among you there are not many who are wise in the eyes of men, nor many who are mighty, nor many who are of good family. But what is foolish in the world, God has chosen to confound the wise; what is weak in the world, God has chosen to confound the strong". (1 Cor 1:26).
V.5 - And Paul himself knows that his weaknesses are not obstacles in the apostolate but an opportunity for a clear manifestation of God's power: "A thorn has been put in my flesh, an angel of Satan has been sent to blow me away so that I will not be proud! Three times I prayed to the Lord to take him away from me. But he said to me: "My grace is sufficient for you, for in weakness there is power. So it is with a great heart that I will glory above all in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. That is why I take pleasure in the weaknesses, in the insults, in the distresses, in the persecutions and anguish endured for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong". (2 Cor 12). The treasure he carries and is responsible for making known is carried in the fragility that makes way for God's action. "We carry this treasure in earthenware vessels, so that this incomparable power is God's and not ours". (2 Cor 4:7). Paul's ministry was one of total communion with Christ, right up to his abasement, because he knew that he was sharing in the power of the risen Christ. He "knows in whom he has put his faith".. That's all that matters to Paul. "The power of Christ unfolds in weakness".. So Paul's ministry is a ministry of power and glory, since it is adjusted to the poor Christ, lowered to the point of dying on a cross, glorified by the Father.
- In what way does the ministry I live bring me into communion with the poor and humble Christ? - In the world in which I live, to what boldness and obedience to the Spirit am I led to live and speak the faith of Paul?
- What break with the prevailing culture?
- In what way are my weaknesses associated with and participants in the action of the Risen Lord?
VI - PAUL, A "MINISTRY OF THE SPIRIT
VI.1 - THE Paul considers his ministry "as a ministry of the Spirit, "established according to the Holy Spirit (Ro 1,4). It is Christ who makes us capable of being ministers of a New Covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life". (2 Cor 3:6). Paul "illuminated by the glory of Christ, transfigured into that same image with ever greater glory by the Lord". lives a ministry of freedom, adjusted by a total "amen" to God's plan to give life to the world.
VI.2 - THE This ministry becomes a ministry of illumination. It consists first of all in seeking to be close to people and to gain their trust, with the spirit of a servant: "No, we are not proclaiming ourselves, but Jesus Christ the Lord. As for ourselves, we proclaim ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake". (2 Corinthians 4:5), and in the truth concerning the Word of God to be transmitted in its entirety: "We are not like so many others who tamper with the word of God; we speak with sincerity, on behalf of God, in the face of God, in Christ. (2 Cor 2). The purpose of bringing the Word close to people is to introduce them to "the illumination of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor 4:4). It aims to lead to the obedience of faith, to glory.
VI.3 - THE This ministry is one of constant openness to the Spirit. It is the ministry of the watchman, always on the lookout for what the Spirit is doing in people's hearts. Seeing what the Spirit was doing among the Gentiles, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem to speak freely and truthfully. Isn't it always a question of "walking under the impulse of the Spirit". (Gal 5:16) and to obey him. Paul's ministry is one of obedience and, by the same token, of daring, not of repetition, constantly moving towards the Father's plan at work in humanity; the aim of this ministry is to actualise the New Covenant realised in the Paschal Mystery. We can ask ourselves: what lights have we received from Christ? In what way are they a power that leads to the necessary daring to live a ministry of illumination?
VII - PAUL, A MINISTRY OF PRAYER
VII.1 - THE Paul was a man of prayer. He prayed in the synagogue, by the river (Acts 16:13), in prison (Acts 16:25), on the boat. He prayed in all circumstances, giving thanks to God for what he saw him accomplish.
VII.2 - THE He does not hesitate to ask the community to pray for him and his mission: "Pray for us in particular, so that God may open up a free field for our preaching and that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ; it is for his sake that I am in chains; obtain for me the right to publish it by speaking as I ought". (1 Cor 4).
VII.3 - THE He knows that it is the Spirit who prays in him and in every disciple "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out: Abba, Father! (Gal 4:6). And the work of the Spirit in prayer is to adjust the saints to the Father's plan: "The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know what to ask in order to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with ineffable groanings, and He who searches the hearts knows what the Spirit's desire is and that his intercession for the saints corresponds to God's plans. And we know that God cooperates in everything for their good with those who love him, with those whom he has called according to his purpose". (Ro 8,26).
VII.4 - THE Through the Spirit, Paul is in communion with Christ his Master, and this is his strength. "spirit of prayer as Father Chevrier put it. One day, he was able to say "it is no longer I who live, it is Christ who lives in me", the perfection of union with Christ praying to the Father in himself, doing the Father's work. At the end of his letters, he hopes that this communion with Christ and the mystery of the Trinity will dwell in the hearts of Christ's disciples: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all!" (2 Cor 13). Such, then, is the man who is attuned to God and to his plan of salvation, attuned to Christ in the power of the Spirit.
Paul's ministry was far from being that of a civil servant. It was that of a man who called himself "a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart to preach the gospel of God" (Rom 1:1). His whole life was involved in this ministry, to reveal the Risen Lord present in the world, the hope of glory. He was consecrated for the Gospel. This is the power of his apostolate. "I have become a minister of the Church by virtue of the office which God has entrusted to me, to bring about among you the coming of the Word of God, that mystery which has remained hidden for centuries and generations and which has now been made manifest to his saints: God has made known to them the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: it is Christ among you! The hope of glory! We proclaim this Christ, warning every man and instructing every man in all wisdom, so as to make every man perfect in Christ. And it is for this cause that I strive, with his energy working in me with power". (Col 1:25-29). Following in Paul's footsteps, it is difficult to imagine that ministry can be part-time. Totally committed to the service of humanity,
- He takes the roads of men; he goes where people gather;
- He looks, listens, sees, understands, adjusts, stands out, in fidelity to the Word;
- He proclaims Christ in his totality, "in public as well as in private" with one or other ;
- He seeks out hearts where the Word resonates, to awaken them to the law of freedom and communion with Christ. He shapes them, like a father, a shepherd, and supports them;
- He calls some of them to lead the flock, to build a community and to form it. Father Chevrier wanted to pass all this on to us so that our ministry would also be a ministry of the Spirit, a ministry of power in the cross of the Lord.
Gilles Gracineau, Prado priest - diocese of Limoges