Thursday, January 27, 2011

Paul the Convert /We the Would-Be Converts

On Tuesday, January 25, the church celebrated the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The day's liturgy offers two choices for the first reading. Both selections from the Acts of the Apostles tell how Paul fell to the ground, surrounded by a blinding light. He heard a voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" when Saul who became Paul answered, "Who are you, Sir?" The voice answered, "I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting." Paul was blinded by the light, yet his inner sight was opened to a new reality. The Christ whom he was persecuting in the Christians was and is a living reality--crucified and risen. This Christ is the "Kyrios", the Lord.
From then on, Saul the persecutor began a great change in his life. Many call it a conversion. Paul was already a God-fearing believer in all the tenents of Judaism. He was taught by the famous Rabbi Gameliel. Paul practiced all that the Jewish Torah demanded. His "conversion"--his turning about--was realizing that the Christ whom he had despised was the very same God he worshipped.
That event on the way to Damascus invites all of us to turn closer to Christ, if we are already Christians. If we are not Christian, we are invited to investigate, to see that God, the Creator and Sustainer of each of us and of all the universe is alive, he is caring for each of us. He is manifest to us in Christ Jesus.
Christ is alive in the church even though the Church is home not only to Saints, but to sinners. Some leave the church because they see some people who are "professionals" in the faith actually sin or behave in ways that look anything but Christ-like. My church history professor, the late Jesuit, Father Martin Harney, told us that the fact that the church is still afloat and alive in so many millions and throughout the world despite the scandals, the sins, the shortcomings. Yes, despite all the things which are not likeable, there is the presence of Christ. Maybe he seems to be asleep in Peter's boat, but he is still there. Paul turned toward Christ that day on the way to Damascus. Each day he turned a little more toward Christ until he could say, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ" (see the Letter to the Galatians).
So for us we can turn, we can change in increments, a little bit at a time. When someone cuts us off in traffic, we could spew out harsh words, or we could keep silent and pray a Hail Mary for the offender, as well as asking for patience for ourselves. That's converting a road block into a stepping stone. May St. Paul intercede for us so we can convert in small and big ways.

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