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Conversion of Saint Paul

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Saint of the Day for January 25

 

The Story of the Conversion of Saint Paul

Saint Paul’s entire life can be explained in terms of one experience—his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, who was only a few years older. But he had acquired a zealot’s hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: “…entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” (Acts 8:3b). Now he himself was “entered,” possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal—being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Savior.

One sentence determined his theology: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5b). Jesus was mysteriously identified with people—the loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfillment of all he had been blindly pursuing.

From then on, his only work was to “present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Colossians 1:28b-29). “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5a).

Paul’s life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ’s victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new.

So Paul’s great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more “works” than the Law could ever contemplate.


Reflection

Paul is undoubtedly hard to understand. His style often reflects the rabbinical style of argument of his day, and often his thought skips on mountaintops while we plod below. But perhaps our problems are accentuated by the fact that so many beautiful jewels have become part of the everyday coin in our Christian language.


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Minute Meditations

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Conversion of St. Paul 

The great apostle was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin.  He surpassed all his peers in zeal for the Jewish law and their traditions, which he thought to be the cause of God, became one of the most fierce enemies and persecutors of Christians. He was one of the conspirators in the martyrdom of St. Stephan.After the martyrdom of the holy deacon, the priests and magistrates of the Jews raised a violent persecution against the church at Jerusalem, in which Saul placed himself above the others.In the fury of his zeal, he appealed to the high priest and Sanhedrim for a commission to take up all Jews at Damascus who confessed Jesus Christ, and bring them bound to Jerusalem, that they might serve as public examples to incite terror into others.But God was pleased to show forth in Saul his patience and mercy: Saul was almost at the end of his journey to Damascus, when, around noon, he and his company were surrounded by a great light from heaven and, fell to the ground. Then Saul heard a voice, which to him was articulate and distinct, but not understood by the rest :"Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me? Christ said not: Why dost thou persecute my disciples, but me: for it is he, their head, who is chiefly persecuted in his servants." Saul answered: "Who art thou, Lord?" Christ said: "Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecute. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad: - to contend with one so much mightier than thyself."There was a Christian of distinction in Damascus, Ananius, greatly respected by the Jews for his irreproachable life and great virtue. Christ appeared to this holy disciple, and commanded him to go to Saul, who was at that moment in the house of Judas at prayer. Ananias trembled at the name of Saul, being familiar with the misdeeds he had done in Jerusalem and the errand for which he set out to Damascus. But our Redeemer overruled his fears, and charged him a second time to go, saying: "Go, for he is a vessel of election to carry my name before Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel: and I will show him how much he has to suffer for my name. For tribulation is the test and portion of all the true servants of Christ."Thus a blasphemer and a persecutor was made an apostle, and chosen to be one of the principal instruments of God in the conversion of the world.St. Paul never recalled his wonderful conversion, from which have poured forth may blessings, without raptures of gratitude and praise to the Divine and His mercy. The Church, in thanksgiving to God for such a miracle of his grace, to commemorate so miraculous an instance of his almighty power and to propose to penitents a perfect model of a true conversion, has instituted this feast, which we find mentioned in several calendars and missals of the eighth and ninth centuries, and which Pope Innocent III commanded to be observed with great solemnity.

What Must I Do?

Some of us may need to let go of money to follow Jesus, but for others, grandiose views of self, unfair expectations, and trivial worries do far more damage to a life of discipleship than anything else. Some of us need to let go of possessions, but others have too strong a grip on safety nets, past traumas, or petty grudges to be free enough to follow Jesus. Truly, nothing is too small or too insignificant. Anything that prevents us from following Jesus with our whole heart, anything that holds us back, is a stumbling block to Christian discipleship as deadly as sin. If we refuse to let go of whatever it is, we run the risk of ending up just like the rich young man: sad and far from Jesus.

—from the book Let Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship by Casey Cole, OFM

The Underlying Mystery Is Always Present

If we are to come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity, then we will come to that belief by developing the capacity for a simple, clear, and uncluttered presence. Those who can be present with head, heart, and body at the same time will always encounter The Presence, whether they call it God or not. For the most part, those skills are learned by letting life come at us on its own terms, and not resisting the wonderful underlying Mystery that is everywhere, all the time, and offered to us too.

—from the book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps by Richard Rohr, OFM

Spirituality Is about Letting Go

Letting go is not in anybody’s program for happiness, and yet all mature spirituality, in one sense or another, is about letting go and unlearning. You can take that as an absolute. As German mystic-philosopher Meister Eckhart said, the spiritual life has much more to do with subtraction than it does with addition.

—from the book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps by Richard Rohr, OFM

Healing Past Hurts

To keep our bodies less defended, to live in our body right now, to be present to others in a cellular way, is also the work of healing of past hurts and the many memories that seem to store themselves in the body. The body seems to never stop offering its messages; but fortunately, the body never lies, even though the mind will deceive you constantly. Zen practitioners tend to be well-trained in seeing this. It is very telling that Jesus usually physically touched people when he healed them; he knew where the memory and hurt was lodged, and it was in the body itself.

—from the book Breathing Under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps by Richard Rohr, OFM

God Speaks in Many Languages

Exclusion in the name of God is the very worst of religious sins. God speaks in many tongues and to every color and age of people. It is not ours to decide where God’s favor lies. But it is ours to see as a spiritual task the obligation to come to our own opinions. We are not to buy thought cheaply. We are not to attach ourselves to someone else’s decisions like pilot fish and simply go with the crowd. We are meant to be thinking Christians.

—from the book In God's Holy Light: Wisdom from the Desert Monastics by Sister Joan Chittister

The Spiritual Problem of Our Time

The great spiritual problem of the day is being “like fish out of water.” A life without spiritual regularity drifts through time with little to really hang onto when life most needs an anchor. Instead, we often get caught up in someone else’s agenda most of our lives. We put the cell aside for work and its never-ending deadlines. We forget the cell when we need it most and make play a poor substitute for thought and prayer. We think that we can run our legs off doing, going, finding, socializing, and still stay stolid and serene in the midst of the pressure of it all. And then we find ourselves staring at the ceiling one night and thinking to ourselves, “There must be more to life than this.”

—from the book In God's Holy Light: Wisdom from the Desert Monastics by Sister Joan Chittister

Listen with Your Whole Heart

There is a whole dimension of life to which we have to listen with our whole heart, mind-fully, as we say. Mindfulness is necessary to find meaning—and the intellect is not the full mind. The intellect, one has to hasten to say, is an extremely important part of our mind, but it isn’t the whole mind. What I mean here when I say “mind” is more what the Bible calls the “heart,” what many religious traditions call the “heart.” The heart is the whole person, not just the seat of our emotions. The kind of heart that we are talking about here is the lover’s heart, which says, “I will give you my heart.” That doesn’t mean I give you part of myself; it means I give myself to you. So when we speak about wholeheartedness, a wholehearted approach to life, mindfulness, that alone is the attitude through which we give ourselves to meaning.

—from the book The Way of Silence: Engaging the Sacred in Daily Life by Brother David Steindl-Rast



It's Not about Perfection

Perfection is not what being human is about. Perfection is simply not attainable in the human condition. The function of being human is to become the best human beings we can be, one insight, one mistake, at a time. Then, knowing the struggle that comes with trying and failing over and over again, we become tender with others who are also struggling in the process.

—from the book In God's Holy Light: Wisdom from the Desert Monastics by Sister Joan Chittister