Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

What I Have Seen and Heard (September 11, 2008)

By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta | Published September 11, 2008

The Apostle Paul was born approximately 2,000 years ago in Tarsus—the exact date in all likelihood is known only to God. The Church Universal, however, is observing the anniversary of his birth for a full year.

Paul is such a significant figure for the Church that his birth deserves at least an entire year’s commemoration. If Peter the apostle is the Church’s rock and anchor of Faith, Paul is our teacher par excellence. But how did this Jewish zealot become such an important teacher and preacher of renown? The answer, of course, is God’s grace. God chose Paul for the work of mission and evangelization. Like most of God’s choices, it continues to baffle the heart.

Paul became a disciple of Christ under the most extraordinary of circumstances. He was a well-known persecutor of Christians, so rightfully most of them were afraid of him. Yet the Lord Jesus called this militant to become a disciple, an apostle and eventually the Church’s most successful evangelist. Paul changed completely and immediately once he encountered Jesus on that road to Damascus. He set aside his past and focused on the future to which Christ called him, which was the proclamation of the reign of God to all the nations.

The essence of being a disciple is found in being called by the Lord and in responding to that call by leaving the past behind. Not every person that Christ called in the Gospels was willing or able to leave their pasts. We all remember the story of the wealthy young man who touched the heart of Christ and then received the invitation to discipleship and yet was unable to leave his wealth behind. We know that on another occasion Christ invited others to discipleship, and they wanted to return home to take leave of their families. In both of these stories, Christ’s invitation was declined. The past can hold all of us trapped.

We are today’s disciples—at least we have been summoned to become the Lord’s disciples in the world today. The past still has the same allure for most of us. It is very difficult to break with yesterday, with old habits, with our backgrounds. Yet to be a disciple means being willing to do just that—to leave the past behind and move boldly and wholeheartedly into tomorrow with the Lord Jesus and to work for the coming of God’s kingdom.

To be a disciple is to become a person fixed on the challenges of tomorrow. One of the themes of our archdiocesan strategic planning process is that of discipleship. We must be focused on the horizons that lie ahead in this vibrant local Church. We all are summoned to announce the kingdom that the Lord has promised. We are challenged to care for the poor, the sick, the stranger and the innocent unborn whose futures are so fragile in today’s society. Because we are disciples, we listen to the Word of God and share the sacraments that strengthen the bonds that unite us. Disciples are those who are excited about the future and committed to helping the reign of God be proclaimed to every creature.

God chose Paul—at best an unlikely candidate for the work of evangelization and God chooses us to work for the kingdom that is to come. May God’s grace, which was so powerful in the life of Paul, bring about his will in each of our lives for his glory and our salvation. Our strategic planning for the growth and development of the Archdiocese of Atlanta is intended to energize us and to prepare us to respond to the Lord’s invitation to discipleship and his summons to holiness of life.