January 25th, 2019 ~ The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle
Paul was an amazing man. He was small of stature; he refused to depend on charity–thus, he worked as a tentmaker wherever he went. After he was severely beaten, he was in constant pain, but went on and on and on, because, as I tried to learn from him . . . .
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
~ Philippians 4:13
Paul before his conversion was known as Saul of Tarsus, and as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles he says, “I persecuted this Way (i.e. Christians) to death, binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.” And then he tells the story of his conversion on the way to Damascus, that a great light blinded him and he heard a voice asking, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”(You can read the rest of the story in Acts 22: 1:16.) Or the alternative version given in the Mass readings below (Acts 9:1-22).
But what is conversion? Being converted, is simply meeting yourself for the purpose of going to the end of your being. (Conversion means to see the truth of things and conform one’s conduct to it.) In the voice and the light that Saul’s encounter on the road, he sees the truth of things (from his past persecution of Christians) and willingly conforms himself to Jesus Christ. It is clear that Paul clearly fled from himself and cast out his own will, and that his will was active only in relation to Christ. Since with Christ there was nothing undesirable or repugnant to his will, it follow that his was a wondrous pleasure which was always present and with which he always lived. (from the introductory notes in the Magnificat liturgical magazine for today’s feast, January 2019 edition p. 353.)
I enjoyed what St. John Chrysostom, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church, in the early church also says about Paul in the divine office for today . . . .
Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists and in what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed even higher; each day he rose up with even greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in his words: “I forget what lies behind me and I push on to what lies ahead.” (There’s a lesson for us here, isn’t there?)
I never paid much attention to Paul until my later years. And suddenly, I fell in love with him; thus, I’m writing this blog in his honor, despite the passages that show his Hebraic attitudes toward women and the misuse of his words about gay people. Here’s the reason . . . .
Chrysostom goes on to say that the most important point of all is . . . .
St. Paul knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considers himself happier than anyone else . . . . He preferred to be thus loved and yet the least of all, or even among the damned, than to be without that love than be among the great and honored. So too, in being loved by Christ he thought himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, the present and the future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet. (Another lesson for us?)
A few years ago, a priest-friend sent me a Christmas card with a favorite quote from St. Paul on the cover that I framed and still sits on my dining room table that I often glance at. As I have had my own cup of suffering from long years of manic-depressive illness it means a great deal to me . . . .
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for in weakness power reaches perfection.”
And so I willingly boast of my weaknesses instead,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
For when I am powerless, it is then I am strong.
(2 Cor. 12:9-10)
You see, Paul has helped me love my Lord ~ or rather to realize in tears of joy that Jesus loves me deeply and richly ~ as I am, weak and sinful. He has raised me up and heals me, granting me the wonderful grace to share his love as best I can at the tip of my cursor ~ if in no other way.
And so, dear friends, know that you, too, are loved, whether you know it or not. Our God is love! Know that–despite whatever else you’ve been taught, despite how guilty you may feel or how unworthy you think you are. YOU ARE LOVED! THIS IS A MEANINGFUL UNIVERSE!
We’ll let St. Catherine of Siena have the last word that really grabbed me, “That dear preacher Paul . . . was a wolf but became a lamb, a gracious vessel of love and with fire which Christ filled his vessel he carried through the whole world! What you have received, give.
And now, before you go, here are the St. Louis Jesuits singing the Prayer of their Founder, “Take, Lord, and Receive.” It’s a beautiful prayer and a beautiful song. Click here.Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen for the slide show that accompanies it.
And here are all of today’s mass readings for today’s Feast, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.