Imitate me! The spirituality of St Paul

Frank J. Matera

Paul invites his converts to imitate him because he exemplifies the Paschal Mystery in his life. He has become so identified with Christ that if his converts imitate the way he lives and dies with Christ they will know how to follow Christ. Frank J. Matera is Professor Emeritus of the Catholic University of America.

Discipleship plays a central role in the Gospels. Jesus calls people to follow him so that they can learn from him. When we come to the Pauline Epistles, however, Paul does not speak of discipleship. Instead he invites people to imitate him. In the opening verses of 1 Thessalonians, he commends the Thessalonians because they became imitators of him and of the Lord (1 Thess. 1.6-7). In 1 Corinthians, he twice calls the Corinthians to imitate him. He writes, ‘Therefore, I urge you, be imitators of me’ (1 Cor. 4.16). And again, ‘Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1 Cor. 11.1). Finally, he says to the Philippians, ‘Join with others in being imitators of me, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us’ (Phil. 3.17).

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