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Paul discovered happiness in Jesus Christ Print
Guest column
Thursday, Apr. 23, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

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Note from Bishop Morlino: Dear Friends, As we come to the close of this year of St. Paul, let us refocus our minds and hearts on the life and works of this great Apostle. One of our newly ordained priests, Fr. Brian Dulli, parochial vicar of Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish in Sun Prairie, has been kind enough to offer some excellent reflections on St. Paul to help us along the way. -- Bishop Robert C. Morlino

Second in a series

Paul remains the most formidable thinker of apostolic times. While he could not have initiated Christianity, we owe to Paul profound thanks both for his human and spiritual gifts.

Much of what Paul writes flows from his very capable reflection on what happened to him as a human being and then as an apostle.

Law of flesh, law of Spirit

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First comes his natural experience as an observant Jew, blameless in the law. Then, the Holy Spirit entered his life, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.  In this way Paul took on new life, making him a true hero of faith. 

In his letter to the Romans, Paul reflects considerably upon Judaism as perhaps only he was able to do. As fully as he once pursued the traditions of his ancestors, he was now the best interpreter of Christ in relation to observant Judaism. 

He discovered in Jesus Christ a happiness that he had not found simply by keeping the law. As blameless as Saul the Pharisee once was, he was still fated to die under the Jewish law. 

As often as he tried to do good under the law, evil still lay close by, seeking whatever opportunity to exploit a weakened-human-nature, what Paul almost always calls "the flesh" (Romans 7:21-25).

In Romans 8, Paul refers to the law of the Spirit of Christ Jesus now living in him and in all Christians.  In Galatians 5, he says that those who are in Christ have crucified the desires of the flesh. 

What is going on here? Paul's humanity has not been replaced, nor has ours. Prone to sin, he lives not for the sake of sin. 

It bears repeating. Christians live only for Christ's sake and not for any other thing, no matter how appealing, because creatures are inexorably tied to the reality of sin. The law of God served to expose sin for what it was, but only Christ frees us from sin by dying to sin in the flesh.

Again in Romans 8, Paul declares that God has condemned sin in the flesh because Christ came to us in the likeness of sinful flesh. By dying in the place of sinners, Christ made us finally free to keep the "just demands of the law." 

He has cancelled out the debt we owed to God in the flesh. Paul explains how the faithful then die with Christ in order to rise with him. The Spirit of Sonship (Rom 8:15) is Christ's pledge that we can now be pleasing to the Father again in every way. Most especially, we can fulfill the demands of the law by offering true spiritual worship in the name of Christ. 

The wisdom of the cross

If Paul's only sin under the law was egotism, it was enough. In his own wisdom, he knew that he was one of the few who had any right to boast about what he had accomplished in the flesh. 

Yet after discovering the wisdom who had created him to be living still in the person of Jesus Christ, he decided that everything he had gained was really such a great loss for the sake of that wisdom (Philippians 3).

Indeed, he declared, "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).

Next: How Paul's conversion is relevant today.