I am currently reading Hermitage Within by an anonymous monk. The entire first section of the book possesses a handful of chapters on the particular saints and prophets who God the Father called to the desert: John the Baptist, Moses, Mary Magdalene, God the Son and Saint Paul. I have a great love for the fiery Saint Paul, next to Our Holy Father John of the Cross and Saint Louis de Montfort there is no other scholar that speaks to me more eloquently. Today, the Traditional Latin Mass Calendar commemorates Saint Paul since yesterday’s feast of the two “pillars of the Church” focuses more in depth on how Our Lord prepared Peter for the Papacy. What do all of these great figures have in common? Besides the Magdalene, God lured them into the desert or summit of a mountain to share His secrets and in turn they were expected to share that secret with the world.
Moses, sharing God’s law and being the instrument to free the people in Egypt; John the Baptist led a most austere life as a hermit before preparing the way of the Lord; we need not go into detail about Our Lord and His hidden life and what it prepared Him for. But what of Saint Paul? Saint Paul makes only a mere incidental mention of what he did after his conversion:
But when it pleased Him, Who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the gentiles, immediately I condescended not to flesh and blood. Neither went I to Jerusalem to the Apostles who were before me: but I went into Arabia. (Galatians 1:11-20)
He describes in Galatians how three years after his conversion and time spent in Arabia how he finally went to Jerusalem; there he met James and stayed with Peter for fifteen days. What a mystery! Saint Paul makes no other mention in scripture of what took place in those three years, some suppose he actually traveled to Mount Sinai (there’s that mountain analogy again!) for meditations in the desert. It is a wild notion for some to suppose that he was instructed in secrecy and left everything to be formed by God Himself before achieving his predestined mission. What should we suspect though? How else would he be expected to begin preaching when he knew nothing of the teachings of Christ. He was not among the twelve, he needed real instruction! I am just so in awe of this great mystery of the hidden life. Nowhere in scripture does Our Lord even discuss His thirty years of contemplation and concealment. Can you imagine the conversations He had with His Mother and Saint Joseph? My Novice Mistress once said that the things God loves most, He keeps hidden for Himself; of course this makes me think of Our Lady who we hear little from in scripture and Saint Joseph, not even once.
When I read Saint Paul it is as though I am reading the life of a poet who is madly in love. The author of the book I am reading summed it up so well when he said this of the saint, “With the impetuosity of youth and the violence of his temperament, the fire of charity inflaming him…..” I had a most memorable conversation in Carmel with one of our chaplains; we were discussing how Our Lord in His Divine Nature does not have a human personality, but He does have a temperament. I think a temperament- like the gift of faith- when cast in the furnace of purification to be sharpened and put through the test can be a great weapon used for the glory of God when properly refined, rather…Divinely refined. I picture Our Lord in those three years with Paul softening his temperament, but sharpening it at the same time. He wants us to “lose ourselves” but He also wants us to find the best version of ourselves. He keeps the good, but purges us of the bad (the weeds of the heart). We can take great comfort in knowing God especially designed everything about us, even our temperaments. If Paul had a unique zeal we can only imagine how this “violence” was acuminated to convert the gentiles!
If Paul did indeed spend three years in the desert preparing for the task given him by God, to a remote place to be formed by Christ alone, than this is a true event worth meditating on! My confessor in Carmel once said that Blessed John Duns Scotus wrote that certain souls have such a crucial role in the Church that whether they know it or not- and whether they like it or not- God’s will will be accomplished in them. Christ will even find a back door to make the soul say “fiat” if the one chosen fights God, because He is so determined to make them a saint. This only makes sense when Our Lord told Saint Paul “Why do you kick against the goad?” Meaning it is useless, Paul was a chosen vessel, and God does not change His mind with His elect. Ah! It is so comforting to think that Our Lord doesn’t have a frail and flighty temperament like we fallen humans. We can make a decision and change our mind a thousand times, Our Lord doesn’t operate like that, and neither do the angels.
This should give us great hope in our own lives and intimacy with Christ, that we can continuously fall and this will never exhaust His great and unfathomable mercy!