Friday, April 20, 2018

Paul, the "Vessel of Election"

Parmigianino's rendition of today's reading.
The dramatic road to Damascus story is today's first reading at Mass, but you won't hear Saul (Paul) referred to in the classic words as a "vessel of election." Instead, the lectionary goes with the more prosaic "chosen instrument."

For years, I was all right with that. Our Pauline prayerbook continued to say, "You are a vessel of election, O St Paul the Apostle; preacher of truth to the whole world" and things like that, reflecting the older usage. It was kind of a best of both worlds scenario until this morning when it struck me that a "vessel" is a container. If Paul is "a vessel of election to carry My Name..." that hints that he is filled with the Name, the Person of Jesus. And this vessel does not just transport the Name, the Person of Jesus: it makes him available everywhere. There is a hint here of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (cf. Col 1:27) that just doesn't come through if Paul is an "instrument."

I did a little homework on this, and, yes, it is true that the Greek used in Acts 9 (σκεῦος) is translated in Wiktionary as "vessel, implement." So the "instrument" thing is perfectly legitimate. It just strikes me as reductive and detatched, whereas the word "vessel" offers much richer possibilities, more consistent with a genuinely apostolic spirituality in which the message and the messenger are profoundly united.

By our Baptism, we are more than "instruments" to bring Jesus to the world: we are vessels, to contain him and pour him into the waiting hearts of "Gentiles and Kings and the children of Israel." Just like Paul.

You are a vessel of election, O St Paul the Apostle:
—Preacher of truth to the whole world.

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