St. Paul never got over his remorse. The guilt? Yes. But not the remorse.
You might remember how Paul (then known as Saul) ravaged the Church, watching with approval as others killed Christians. He hated the disciples so passionately he even sought permission from the religious leaders to travel to distant cities and drag followers of Christ to prison in Jerusalem.
No, St. Paul never forgot what he did to Christ. The image stayed with him as long as he lived -- for example, see here, here, here, and here. But the apostle also recognized -- and this has important application for us -- St. Paul also recognized God had washed clean his sins with the blood of the same Jesus he once persecuted.
St. Paul never forgot his sin, but neither did he ever forget God's mercy -- which is why he wrote to his protege, Timothy:
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16) [bolded highlight my emphasis].
And it was his recognition of God's mercy that led the apostle to write to the Ephesians of the "unfathomable riches of Christ" (3:8).
Think of it. The absolute and utterly Holy stooped to kiss the absolute and utterly Profane with new life, a new heart, and new hope. The Almighty and All-righteous God washed Paul -- the foremost of sinners -- with the precious blood of the Lamb, and gave him a clean slate.
It was as if he had never sinned.
Seven hundred years before Saul became Paul and discovered the forgiveness of God, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah wrote about Jesus:
He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Isaiah 53:5-8).
St. Paul recognized a vital spiritual truth you and I must also recognize and allow to sink deep into our hearts: Jesus covered us -- Paul, me, you, and every penitent sinner -- with His own back and took the lashes we each deserve to receive.
Unfathomable? The idea that God proves His love for us that even while we were shaking our fist in His face, Christ died for us (see here) -- that idea is, to me, unfathomable. When I remember my rebellions, perversions, blasphemies, even the murder of my child . . . that God should love a sinner such as I -- how utterly wonderful and unfathomable is love like that.
Isaac Watts wrote a remarkable hymn in the 18th century. I include some of the stanzas here because the words mean so much to me in light of the riches of Christ:
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
Isn't it true? God's amazing love and grace and mercy and forgiveness -- Oh! such forgiveness -- demands our soul, our life, our all.
Questions for Reflection:
1. St. Paul was guilty of murder and horrible -- and repeated -- persecution of the Church. Yet, God forgave him of it all. Do you think God is any less willing to forgive you of your sins?
2. St. Paul, recognizing the utter majesty of God's grace and forgiveness, devoted his life to the gospel and the promotion of God's kingdom. Ought we who are forgiven be any less willing to do likewise?
3. How long has it been since you sought the comfort of our Savior in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?