Who did St. Paul love more, the Gentile Christians or the Jewish community?
Paul certainly used many words of affection when writing to the Christian churches that he founded. At the beginning of his letter to the Philippians he wrote, “I hold you in my heart.”(Philippians 1:7) At the conclusion of his first letter to the Thessalonians he says, “Greet all with a holy kiss.”(2 Thessalonians 5:26)
In today’s first reading he proclaims how dear to his heart the Jewish community is.
“I could even wish to be separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen the Israelites.”(Romans 9:3)
I think it is fair to say that both groups had the Apostle Paul’s total and unconditional love.
This leads me to ask the question. “What qualifies a person to be a pope, a bishop, a priest, a deacon or a lay minister?” Do we look for a great administrator, an eloquent preacher, a brilliant Canon lawyer, or someone with boundless energy? All those qualities are important. But they pale in significance when the most basic question for ministry is asked: Who loves the people the most? When someone is working with candidates for a church vocation, this is what needs to be determined.
Does the person considering church ministry delight in children, share in their wonder, and treasure their uniqueness? Does the person considering church ministry care about teenagers, listen to them, affirm them, and believe in them? Does the person considering church ministry invest quality time with adults, understand their sadness, celebrate their joys, and help with their struggles. Does the person considering church ministry cherish old people? Is he or she patient with their infirmities, open to their wisdom and able to enjoy their memories?
This is the kind of love that Jesus came to teach us. This is the kind of love the apostle Paul had for both the Jewish and Christian community. This is the kind of love that all church ministers need to possess. When church ministers care so deeply about their people, this is preaching at its finest. Others will have to conclude, “Wow, what must their God be like!”
Fr. Alan Phillip, C.P. is a member of the Passionist Community at Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.