God usually works through human instruments. Paul can say “But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him without one preaching?” (Rom 10:14). Each one of us can think of a whole line of people to whom we are indebted because they shared their faith with us and built up our faith.
Paul himself is the exception because in his case, God intervened directly. In fact, he not only wasn’t disposed to believe in Christ, but, as he admits, he “went to extremes in persecuting the Church of God and tried to destroy it.”
Despite the fact that he appeared to have been so far from Christ, Paul is convinced that God had a plan for him even before he was born: “When He who had set me apart before I was born and called me by His grace”
God had called him from his birth: God “set me apart before I was born and called me by His favor” (Gal 1:15). Paul is a wonderful example of how God has a plan for each one of us. In his Providence, God reaches into our lives as well, even when we try to get as far away from Him as possible.
After the homily, we will say the Nicene Creed, what we as a community believe but each one of us should make an attachment to the Creed by professing our belief that God has a plan for us. We only understand it by looking back and we see how the plan worked out. God has a plan for each one of us and it is a good plan.
Paul, says, “He called me by his grace.” The Greek word charis meant “favor” but the New Testament writers use charis for God’s “grace.” The New American Bible uses “favor” in 1:15 but the Revised Standard uses “grace,” as does the New Jerusalem Bible. Either translation brings out that God’s call is His free gift.
Paul Himself is the perfect example of the fact that grace is a gift. He was as disposed to receive faith in Jesus as the widow’s son in Naim, in today’s Gospel. Paul says, “For it is God who works in us, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will” (Phil 2:13). God helps us by the free gift of His grace.
Galatians 1:15 is usually translated, “when He who set me apart before I was born.” Literally: “…the One who separated me from the womb of my mother.” For Thomas Aquinas, childbirth is an example of the way that we in our human actions cooperate with divine action:
It is indeed true to say that God separates one from the womb, even though it is the work of nature, which is, as it were, an instrument of God because even our own works are attributed to God as their principal author: ‘For You have wrought all our works for us’ (Is 26:12), as any effect is attributed to the principal agent...
Thomas reminds us that every birth is not only the work of the mother and child but also of God. For Thomas, God’s presence with us in all of our actions is an important principle.
Paul says that God chose to reveal His Son to me. God is reveals His Son to us. It is true that we have many teachers in the faith but it is not going to take root unless the Spirit helps us interiorly. St. Thomas says,
There are two kinds of call. One is exterior [as Paul received and the other apostles did as well]… The other call is interior, and in this way He calls through a certain interior instinct, whereby God touches the heart to be turned to Him, as when He calls one from the path of evil to good; and this by His grace and not our own merits.
In this way, we can understand Paul because although we did not have the dramatic call that he received, each of us has “certain interior instinct,” by which God touches our hearts. For Thomas, “God touches the heart to be turned to Him.” This is always God’s mercy, as First Timothy declares: “But I obtained the mercy of God… Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of which I am the chief” (1 Tim 1:13).
Even though God intervened in Paul’s life in a dramatic way, God intended Paul to be His human instrument in drawing others, “to reveal His Son through me” (1:16).
Each of us is also called to reveal the Son in our lives. We may not be as effective as Paul, and yet God works with us, even through the witness of the mercy He has given us
Thomas remarks that Paul also revealed the Son by his actions: “For I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me…by word and by deed, by the power of signs and wonders” (Rom 15:18-19). Thomas observes that this is because “Christ is the power of God.”
Thomas asserts that Paul also revealed the Son by his preaching: “We preach Christ crucified; for the Jews a stumbling block and for the Gentiles foolishness, but for those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23).
By our Baptism, each one of us can say that God called me “to reveal His Son through me.” God’s grace and mercy has been with us even in the very act of birth itself. God’s grace and mercy has been present in our lives, protecting us and healing us from the effects of our own choices in our ongoing conversions. The evidence of God’s grace and mercy in our lives is itself a witness to Christ.
Likewise the actions we do in Christ’s name and the words we speak about Him reveal Christ to others.
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The quotations from Thomas Aquinas are from Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, translated by F. R. Larcher, O.P., (Albany, NY: Magi Books Inc., 1965), pp. 18-31.