January 25th, 2023 ~ 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–and would still like 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 to death (i.e. Christians), 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).
I enjoyed what St. John Chrysostom, a Bishop and Doctor of the Church in the early church, 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, isn’t there, especially during this pandemic when we’re worried about the economy.)
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 remained on my dining room table for years that I often glanced at. As I have had my own cup of suffering from long years of manic-depressive disorder it meant 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 have realized 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, Paul “became a vessel of love filled with fire to carry and preach God’s Word. Amen. Amen!
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.
On this coming Monday, January, 16, 2023, we will honor a great American ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was 39 when he was martyred on April 4, 1968.
On that fateful day, Dr. King took an assassin’s bullet that he knew was waiting for him at any time. It came while he was leading a strike for sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. He inspired and led the Civil Rights movement that acquired great change in our land. This man is one of my mentors. I was in his presence only once in 1963 when I was in the seminary in Baltimore. Our Rector arranged for some of us to hear him speak when he came to Baltimore.
He was a man who committed himself to nonviolence like Mohandas Gandhi, and also Jesus my Lord who died on the Cross for us. Dr. King and I believe that nonviolent action is the only way that justice and peace can be achieved. Dr. King inspired ordinary folks, black and white, to stand up for their rights and to sit down and accept the vicious blows of police and others in their racial hatred. His organizers trained them to have the courage to go to jail for what they believed.
On, the day after his assassination on April 4, 1968, I formally entered the service of the Roman Catholic Church as an ordained deacon. I was a seminary student at the Theological College of the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
The shrill sound of sirens all over the city mingled with the ancient chant melody of the Litany of the Saints as I lay prostrate on the floor of our chapel with my brothers to be ordained. As I looked up to this man and his ideals of justice and peace and freedom, I also wanted to absorb them into my body and soul, I took in a deep breath and pledged my life to Christ.
Today, in this land of America, the freedoms and ideals that Thomas Jefferson told us all men are created equal and have the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness are seriously in danger of slipping away from us. We witnessed the desecration of our Capitol.
Racism that was covert for centuries before it reared its ugly head and been condoned when it should have been severely condemned in Charlottesville, Virginia, the very home of Jefferson’s great University of Virginia, in the bombings of Jewish Synagogues, in Muslim Mosques and violence in El Paso deliberately against brown people, and the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, in Uvalde, Texas and so many other school shootings across our country.
The number of race-based killings and other incidents in our country in the last two years has been astounding — some by officers of the law. It has taken our young people to lead the way to and advocate for real change against gun violence led by the courageous leaders from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
O God of Justice, raise up men and women in our day who will inspire us and restore us to the original ideals of our nation. Enable us to wake up from our slumber and see what we have lost, and safeguard our freedoms. Give us the strength and courage to pledge our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor to win this spiritual revolution of justice, peace and love that now lies before us in 2023.
We also ask you bless President Joe Biden and all our elected officials, and our whole country that we may heal, come together and start anew in this new year of 2023. We pray to you, God, for You are the God who cries for justice for your children and who still hears the cries of those who know and realize they are poor without You. We pray–for only You can can restore us to the ideal of freedom and justice FOR ALL.
To You Glory and Honor and Power, now and forever. Amen!
May we call each other more than a generation later to the principles of Nonviolence Dr. King instilled in his followers.
They were trained to sit down on the ground and take blows of the police because they knew that Nonviolence was a more powerful weapon than guns and bombs.
Dr. King held no public office. He persuaded us by the power of his words and the depth of his conviction.
And his willingness to give his life for what he believed in ~ no matter what.
What areyou are willing to give your life for?
I continually ask myself the same question and pray the answer is Yes! (Or at least I hope so.)
It has been a generation since Dr. King delivered his most powerful and eloquent speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963 that led subsequently to President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act into law on June 2, 1964, I offer this video reflection from the History Channel on Dr. King’s “I have a Dream speech at the Lincoln Memorial, followed by some powerful excerpts from that speech. Click here.
Then follow with this excerpt from his speech. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
Today’s feast day has two meanings. In the Roman Church –or the Christian churches in the West–we celebrate the story of the Magi visiting Jesus and offering him gifts. In the Eastern churches, they focus on the story of the Baptism of the Lord. Both celebrate the manifestation, that is, the revelation of Jesus to the whole world.
St. Paul in today’s letter to the Ephesians proclaims that . . . .
“The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6)
We focus on the story of the Magi in our celebration today. In the Gospel of Christmas, the angels proclaim the Good News of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, who were uneducated, poor folk. The story from Luke indicates that the gospel is to be preached to the poor.
Today’s story is from Matthew. The Magi are scholars and learned men. They discern from their study of the heavens that the Messiah was to be born in their time and they would risk searching for him and then offering their treasures. The Magi represent all the peoples of the earth outside and beyond the Jewish experience.
Jesus is the Christ for everyone!
This Gospel story is about darkness and light. Brilliant light and terrible, fearful darkness.
The Magi were comfortable with the dark. They knew how to find their way in the dark, because they could interpret the lights of the sky. They were adventurers–seekers–explorers.
They represent all people who are at home in the world of the intellect.All people who are willing to journey far to seek and find the truth. (Unfortunately, we live in a world where some of our leaders don’t bother with seeking truth and are afraid of science.)
The Magi went out into the night following the light, the great star which marked a singular event in human history.
They stopped to see Herod, expecting that he would welcome the light. He couldn’t; he was filled with diabolical darkness; he could not abide the light of truth. He tried to snuff out the life of the God-Man: Jesus the Light of the world.
Herod, the guy in charge, a king, was worried about the birth of a baby. Herod was powerful, and yet, as Matthew says, “ . . . he was greatly troubled.
What was Herod afraid of? He knew that Jesus was going to make a difference in his world and was afraid that a change would mean losing the power he had. He wanted Jesus gone before any of that could happen. He liked things just the way they were, the proverbial “status quo.”
So Herod decreed, that all firstborn males under two, were to be killed. Mary and Joseph would have to flee into the night with their little son to find a safe place in a foreign land, the land of Egypt. And so a shroud of violence would invade the innocence of the Christmas story. Jesus and his family became political refugees. (Remember that fact if you are inclined to quickly condemn other political refugees.)
I’d like to try to penetrate the meaning of this sacred event by sharing excerpts of two articles that really impacted my faith and understanding of this great feast.
The great 19th Century Danish philosopher-poet and theologian Søren Kierkegaard, in an article entitled, Only a Rumor, states,
Although the scribes could explain where the Messiah should be born, they remained quite unperturbed in Jerusalem. They did not accompany the Wise Men to seek him. Similarly we may know the whole of Christianity, yet make no movement. The power that moved Heaven and Earth leaves us completely unmoved.
What a difference! The three kings had ONLY A RUMOR to go by. But it moved them to make that long journey. The scribes were much better informed, much better versed. They sat and studied the Scriptures like so many dons, but it did not make them move. Who had more of the truth? The three kings who followed a rumor, or the scribes who remained sitting with all their knowledge?
What a vexation it must have been for the visiting kings, that the scribes who gave them the news they wanted remained mute and dumb in Jerusalem. We are being mocked, the kings might have thought. For indeed what an atrocious self-contradiction that the scribes should have the knowledge and yet remain unmoved and unmoving. This is as bad as if a person knows all about Christ and his teachings, and his own life expresses the opposite.
Father Alfred Delp, the Jesuit priest imprisoned and executed by Hitler in 1945, whom we recently quoted in a powerful Advent article before Christmas, The Shaking Reality of Advent concurs . . . .
The wise men. Whether they were really kings or just local eastern chieftains or learned astronomers is not important. The secret of these people is as plain as the shepherds. They are the men with clear eyes that probe things to the very depths. They have a real hunger and thirst for knowledge. They subordinated their lives to the end in view and they willingly journey to the ends of the earth, following a star, a sign, obeying an inner voice . . . . The compelling earnestness of their quest, the unshakable persistence of their search, the royal grandeur of their dedication–these are their secrets.
And it is their message for us and their judgment of us. WHY DO SO FEW OF US SEE THE STAR? Only because so few are looking for it!
What are we looking for anyway? And will we have a genuine yearning so strong that neither fatigue, nor distance, nor fear of the unknown, nor loneliness, nor ridicule will deter us?
Where is our desire?
Where is our risk to set out to find the meaning of our life?
To find Jesus at our center?
Where is our yearning? Hunger? Thirst?
What star do we follow?
And so, listen to these powerful words from Isaiah in the first reading:
RISE UP IN SPLENDOR, DEAR PEOPLE OF GOD, YOUR LIGHT HAS COME.
THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHINES UPON YOU.
This feast is about a light that penetrates the most stubborn darkness of our lives.
This feast brings a Light to us all, if only we, like the Magi, would seek.
SEE DARKNESS COVERS THE EARTH
AND THICK CLOUDS COVER THE PEOPLES.
Violence seems to shroud our whole planet at times.
Some of us too are swallowed up by darkness, enshrouded by night, as happened to all of us these past three yeas because of the pandemic.
Some of us live in dysfunctional families. That too can be terrible darkness, though we may not recognize it. We may think that yelling and screaming are quite normal.
Some of us get up and work hard, day in and day out. Perhaps it is work that we do not enjoy, perhaps even hate. Perhaps our spirits are far away from our jobs. We go to work trying to eke out a living, hoping to not be enshrouded by darkness. And because of the pandemic, so many lost their jobs or where in unemployment lines trying to apply for assistance!
And we know that there is darkness in the world. Israelis refuse to seek peace with the Palestinians. And we all have been struck quick to the heart by this terrible, vicious war in Ukraine, perpetrated by a despot–for what?
And there’s troubles in hotspots all over the world and in our own country. People have been displaced by the wildfires in the Amazon and in California and never seems to stop in our schools. Hate seethes deep in the souls of neighbors a few blocks away from each other.
BUT UPON YOU THE LORD SHINES
AND OVER YOU APPEARS HIS GLORY.
Don’t despair of the darkness, dear friends. Know that there is a Light that penetrates it.
There was sadness and a thick veil of darkness over my own life for many years. I had the good sense to move to the little bit of light that I could find.
A candle flame can be as bright as a great Nova when one is looking for light.
WE need the light of God’s truth in the world today.
NATIONS SHALL WALK BY YOUR LIGHT,
AND RULERS BY YOUR SHINING RADIANCE.
And finally, dear friends, out of the darkness came the Magi bringing gifts for the Light of the World. Gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Holy Child who was the Light.
But before we can give a gift, we must–often in the midst of the darkness–open our hands and our hearts to receivethe gift God would give to us. We must first RECEIVE before we can give.
Out of the darkness of your lives, you also can find gifts to give to the Lord and your family and friends.
What gifts do we bring?
Do we bring Jesus the gift of our adoration as the Magi did? The gift of our hearts?
These learned and influential people got down on their knees before this little child.
What or who receives the gift of OUR adoration and allegiance?
The world does not know how to adore God. We adore so many other things. Maybe we adore a favorite movie star or our favorite sports team when they’re winning at least, or a new sports car, a new home, a gifted child of our own.
Maybe we adore our career path, willing to do whatever it takes, even as we embrace the darkness along with it.
And so, this Epiphany Sunday, I pray . . . .
When I get down on my knees on Sunday morning,
I’ll be humbled by this story of the Wise Men who traveled from afar and fell to their knees with their gifts for you.
Please allow me–allow us–to be renewed in your love this day.
May we live in your Light and share your Light with our families, friends and neighbors, and, indeed, all the world!
And please, as I’ve pleaded for years and years for our country, dear Lord,
help us to remember that it is in You we trust.
and are the source of our justice,
and the reason for us to live in civility and good will.
Renew us in your justice, love and peace.
To You be glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
now and forever. Amen.
And before you go–I have three special ways for you to enjoy this Feast Day, including ” the Little Drummer Boy”. First off is a beautiful rendition of ‘ O Holy Night’. Click Here. (Remember to click on the < back arrow on the top left corner of your browser for the remaining items I have for you below! enjoy!
Further, if you’re interested in the star of Bethlehem, you might read this article “Synchronicity and the Star of Bethlehem” Click here.
And if you’d like an extra treat, do you remember the little drummer boy? Here he is! Click here.
You can find today’s Mass readings at this link. Click here.