by Glenn Smith
“I’ve had problems with Paul,” the woman remarked. “But now I want to read his letters. I have a whole new appreciation of him.” This comment followed my one-man performance, “A Visit with St. Paul” at St. Paul’s Church, Cobble Hill, last April. Whenever I hear this kind of response, as I often do after performances, my heart overflows.
For the man dubbed “the Great Apostle,” St. Paul ironically is not recognized as such by many Catholics. He’s often judged as arrogant, judgmental, sexist, difficult to understand and hard to relate to. It’s a shame, since his story and writings comprise over half of the New Testament!
Since St. Paul was such a force in establishing Christianity, Pope Benedict XVI inaugurated the Year of St. Paul (2008-2009) to honor the 2,000th anniversary of his birth. The then-pontiff encouraged us to study St. Paul’s life in order to fan the flames of our own personal faith and apostolic fervor.
I first put on a one-man show for a Vacation Bible School my wife directed in 2008. What began as a 20-minute skit for children expanded into a 70-minute performance for people of all ages in parishes and schools throughout the country. As St. Paul, I have “visited” six states and even performed in China during two mission trips. In China, I told the persecuted Roman Catholic members at an “underground church” meeting, “I only act the part of Paul. You’re living it!”
Think about it. Through his life and writings, St. Paul gave the Mediterranean world its first comprehensive look at the life and message of the Risen Christ. Though the Gospels remain the main sources for the proclamation of salvation in Christ, St. Paul provided the full theological perspective of the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He proclaimed the Good News fearlessly, enduring whippings, beatings and imprisonment. As an actor, I never tire of proclaiming St. Paul’s words, so imbued with humility, power and valor.
Through his letters to young churches, especially Romans and Galatians, St. Paul preached the importance of a saving faith that doesn’t rely on good works. Instead, he emphasized the great gift of faith in Jesus and in the Gospel. In our sinfulness and powerlessness, none of us can save our own lives. To think so renders the power of the Cross meaningless.
With reverent wonder, I recite St. Paul’s tender ode to love which he wrote to his friends at Corinth: “Love is patient. Love is kind…” (1 Cor. 13:1-13). The smiles I see, as I did recently at St Joseph’s Co-Cathedral, Prospect Heights, reflect hearts that are moved by St. Paul’s message. It testifies to the enduring power of the apostle’s ability to express the Word of God.
Arrogant? Sexist? Judgmental? Difficult? It’s time for us to replace these words with “wise,” “courageous,” “fervent” and yes, “loving.”
After my performance at Holy Family Church, Canarsie, Bishop Frank Caggiano (then vicar general of Brooklyn) kindly wrote to me that he was “very impressed” with my “unique ministry” and assured me of his prayers. May his prayers be answered with more invitations to visit the parishes and schools of the great Diocese of Brooklyn as St. Paul.[hr]
Smith’s website is visitwithstpaul.com and his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.