What do you make of St. Paul? A dramatic convert? A zealous apostle? A misogynist? A divisive figure? Or perhaps the affectionate pastor of the churches he founded?
‘Like a mother feeding and looking after her own children, we felt sodevoted and protective towards you, and had come to love you so much,’ he writes to the Thessalonians, ‘that we were eager to hand over to you not only the Good News but our whole lives as well.’ Yes, Paul here wears his heart on his sleeve, using an intimate image of mother and child to describe his relationship with the Thessalonians, unabashedly telling them how much he loves them.
What makes Paul so affectionate? He is very conscious of the love that God, and Christ have for him. He talks of Christ as the one ‘who loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Gal 2:20) We know he is here referring to Christ’s death for us, but there are distant echoes of the love and sacrifice of motherhood too (remember how many mothers lost their life in childbirth at the time).
So we too, knowing that we are loved by God, are called to be loving and affectionate towards others, because this is how our God is. In the Old Testament, we see God teaching Israel how to walk, holding the infant up to God’s cheek (Hos 11: 1-5), carving our name on the palm of God’s hand (Is 49:16). It is with that tenderness and care and delight that we are invited to meet others. Now that probably sounds like a few big words, but it can be translated into little things even beyond our close personal relationships… a greeting to the woman on the bus stop; a friendly word to a colleague on a busy morning; the comforting of a crying child; a smile and a kind word to the homeless person on the street.
Dare we be affectionate towards others? Yes, because that is how God is towards us.
Sr Josette Zammit Mangion IBVM
Sr Josette Zammit Mangion is a Sister of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM) which was founded by Mary Ward, a Yorkshire woman, in the early 17th century. Mary Ward wanted a woman’s congregation with no enclosure and with the spirituality and constitutions of the Society of Jesus. Sr Josette directs retreats at Loreto Centre, Llandudno and St. Beuno’s, as well as offering ongoing Spiritual Direction. She has an interest in New Testament Studies, particularly the Letters of St Paul.
I Thank Sr Josette for writing the ‘Dear Parishioner’ Letter this week and for her wonderfulthoughts and perspective.
D Ambrose OSB PP