Catholics face lots of opposition in the media and from the culture, and it is easy to get discouraged, especially when good and holy endeavors don’t work out the way we planned. If the Acts of the Apostles teaches anything, it is that God’s way is always the best way, even if means taking a step back to move that much more forward.
It’s difficult to imagine the opposition St. Paul faced after his conversion to Christianity. Practically no one had heard the Gospel and many opposed it without a hearing. If there was anyone in the world who should have been discouraged, it was St. Paul. But the apostle didn’t get discouraged because, as he writes in Philippians 4:11-12, “…I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.”
What was the secret? Paul knew that in whatever circumstance he found himself, it was part of God’s plan. His faith and hope pulled him through.
Take, for example, what happened to Paul in Acts 19:8-12. Paul had left his friend Apollos in Corinth and traveled down to Ephesus (Acts 19:1), where he found some disciples of John the Baptist — not exactly the best situation, but they were able to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5-6). Now he was ready to evangelize! Luke records that Paul entered into the synagogue, “…and for three months debated boldly with persuasive arguments about the kingdom of God.” But after three months of passionate and persuasive arguments, no converts. In fact, some unbelievers began disparaged Christianity before the assembly. Paul had hit a dead end.
Instead of shaking the dust from his sandals and moving on to another town that was more open-minded, “he withdrew and took his disciples with him and began to hold daily discussions in the lecture hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). A little background behind this verse really shows how much of a step back it was. The synagogue was really Paul’s home turf. Whenever he entered a city to evangelize, he headed for the synagogue. Remember that before his conversion, Paul was an incredibly well-educated Pharisee. But he was forced to abandon the “home-turf advantage” of the synagogue and move to a pagan lecture hall. We don’t know anything about Tyrannus. He may have taught rhetoric and the hall Paul moved to was where he gave his lectures.
The good news was the hall probably accommodated a lot of people. The bad news comes by way of a Syriac manuscript that adds a comment for this verse: Paul lectured “from the 5th hour until the 10th” (that is, the time before and after noon). In other words, the only time the hall was available was when no one wanted to use it, during the hottest part of the day. Not exactly the ideal conditions for evangelism.
One would think that this new arrangement wouldn’t last very long. No one would come in the heat to a pagan lecture hall to talk about religion. Against all humanly expectations, it turned out to be an incredible success, and Paul continued this way for two whole years with the result “… that all the inhabitants of the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord, Jews and Greeks alike. So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:10-12).
Had Paul continued where he was comfortable, he might have won a few people to the faith, but his willingness to step out of his evangelistic comfort zone and accept whatever situation God gave him resulted in an explosion conversions. Paul’s secret to overcoming adversity is knowing that when you are doing God’s will, the worst circumstances can become the most fruitful situations.
Gary Michuta is an apologist, author and speaker and a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Livonia. Visit his website at www.handsonapologetics.com.