What Makes Us 'Paulist?'
Why did Father Isaac Hecker name the society of priests he founded the "Paulists?" After all, we could have been the "Heckerites!" Our identity has been linked from the start not with our founder but with one of the earliest Christian saints. Why did Father Hecker and his four companions choose St. Paul as their namesake, patron, and model? Paul possessed at least three characteristics that clearly resonated with Father Hecker's own experience:
CONVERSION: As Saul, Paul was a person called to conversion. The vision of Jesus he encountered on the road to Damascus shattered the single-minded clarity that had ordered his direction. He required the guidance of a Christian named Ananias to help him understand the strange new thoughts and yearnings that had entered his heart. However reluctant and fearful Ananias may have been, he welcomed Paul and confirmed his faith in the Christ he had once persecuted. A convert himself, Father Hecker was familiar with the restless yearnings and stirring that can lead a person to faith. He sought to provide seekers of his own time with the hospitality and invitation to conversion with which Ananias had greeted the blinded Saul.
DISCIPLESHIP: Paul was a disciple. Conversion became for him a lifetime of learning to live in the light of Christ. This is no easy task for any Christian, nor was it for Paul. His letters reveal his gratitude for the friends who walked the journey with him, and for the support and challenge a community of believers provided. It seems clear from his familiarity with the hymns and common prayers of his day that he expressed and strengthened his discipleship through prayer and worship. His intense outer activity was fueled by a fire within. Father Hecker no doubt read Paul's letters and discovered a kindred spirit whose words evoked his own desire to live a spiritual life while deeply involved in a world of action. Hecker urged the Paulists to be, before all else, persons of prayer.
APOSTLESHIP: Paul was an apostle. After his baptism he spent nearly every conscious moment sharing the good news, using whatever means of travel and communication that were available to him. His life showed ingenuity, courage and perseverance in the face of frustration and hardship. Even his failures, imprisonments and exiles became opportunities to bring the message of Christ to someone who had not yet heard it. Father Hecker must have mined the life of Paul for lessons of consolation and inspiration as he faced his own triumphs, trials and disappointments. During his long years of illness, Father Hecker gained the wisdom that Paul achieved in prison: that faithfulness is the greatest testimony to the gift of faith. Paulists today live in the spirit of Paul and Hecker when we continue to seek every means we can imagine to bring the Gospel to a spirit-starved world.