Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’. And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:58-60)
Saul was educated by the high Sanhedrin priests and he was intent in exterminating the “new sect” led by Jesus. Little did he suspect then, that some time later, the risen Jesus would speak to him on the road to Damascus and put him in charge of the evangelization of the Jews and Gentiles. Saul, now converted into Saint Paul, would take the burden of his cross: his sins against the first Christians. Despite this, he commits himself to the evangelization task.
Paul himself admitted, a long time later, to King Agrippa:
“I myself once thought that I had to do many things against the name of Jesus the Nazorean, and I did so in Jerusalem. I imprisoned many of the holy ones with the authorization I received from the chief priests, and when they were to be put to death I cast my vote against them. Many times, in synagogue after synagogue, I punished them in an attempt to force them to blaspheme; I was so enraged against them that I pursued them even to foreign cities.” (Acts 26:9‑11)
How is it possible that a person capable of such evil deeds could later become a saint? When Saul recovers his sight in Damascus, he realizes that the new light of salvation is a present from God to the entire “blind” human race, and he, despite his sins, has been selected directly by Jesus for this labor of luminous evangelization. For Jesus did not “come to call the righteous, but [the] sinners to repentance.”(Luke 5:32)
Let’s imagine for a moment the feeling of guilt that Paul must have carried in his heart, by recognizing openly that he contributed to the death of God’s saint, Stephen. His new faith, renewed by his encounter with Jesus, takes him to defend the promise of salvation, and because of this he does not spare any warnings against the early Christianswhen he writes:
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: did you receive the Spirit from the works of the law, or from faith in what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:1-3)
The path to sanctity does not require that we always behave like tame doves, allowing others to abuse us. Jesus needs as many saints of the caliber of Stephen, loyal imitators of his Sacred Heart, as saints of the caliber of Paul, righteous “soldiers” of Christendom. Jesus wants you to know how to differentiate the moments in which you have to be defensive, operating with astuteness and sagacity, and the moments in which you must be serene and tame, willing to forgive and avoid conflict. Because of this, Jesus says to his disciples: “Behold, I am sending you out like sheep among wolves; therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
How do we know we are in the presence of a saint? Saints are people full of the virtues of the Holy Spirit, including humility, prudence and charity. They go through the world radiating the peace of God. But these virtues do not necessarily mean that they never sinned, or that they did not have thoughts of which they are ashamed. A saint can become furious, can scold others in his frustration, and can take actions that can appear impulsive to others. Even Jesus showed his rage against the merchants that had converted his Father’s Temple into a marketplace.
Saints are people like us, but with the special characteristic that they have become “vessels” to harbor and transport the light of God’s Spirit throughout the world. To accomplish this, they have renounced temptation. Only by imitating Christ will we be able to enter the narrow path to sanctity, accepting the suffering and burdens of our own crosses, recognizing that Jesus’ sacrifice and passion were not in vain. Let us not forget, Jesus wants to help us. He assured us of this when he said,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”(Matthew, 11:28-30)
We need to become powerful messengers of the Word of Jesus, leaving our prints of love and hope on earth for the upcoming generations. This is the labor of the saints to “enter through the narrow gate…for the gate is small that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”(Matthew 7:13-14)
Fernando Dangond, MD, was born in Colombia, South America. He and his wife, Monica, live in Weston, MA, and have been blessed with two sons Daniel and David and a beautiful daughter, Christina (the inspiration behind Build the Faith) who left to be with the Lord 3 years ago.
Dr. Dangond, is a neurologist and scientist who works for a pharmaceutical company developing medicines to treat devastating neurological diseases.