FRIDAY HOMILY: More Paul's from our Saul's
During this Year of Faith, let us ask God to raise up those who will take the Gospel to this generation
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Imagine being a part of this new and dynamic group of followers of Jesus Christ. There had been a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and the Church, then called "The Way," was exploding. The whole city of Jerusalem was buzzing with rumors. Then came the persecution and an enemy of the Church named Saul. No one would have predicted that he would later become the one through whom God would take the Gospel to the Gentiles.
Conversion of St Paul. Rome, Italy
Imagine being a part of this new and dynamic group of followers of Jesus Christ. There had been a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and the Church, then called "The Way," was exploding. The whole city of Jerusalem was buzzing with rumors.
People were presenting themselves to the apostles and other disciples to be baptized. They would then meet in homes on Sunday, called the Lord's Day, after attending Synagogue on the Sabbath. There they would offer Thanksgiving and partake of Holy Communion, using bread and wine in the manner Christ had taught them.
Sure, there was opposition from the Jewish leaders and those from Herod's palace. In fact, many people were afraid to get involved out of fear from being ostracized. It was a dangerous time to be a disciple of Christ, but it would soon become even worse.
After the martyrdom of Stephen, the deacon, a major persecution broke out across the city of Jerusalem. It became so dangerous for The Way, that many of them fled into other parts of Judea, up into Samaria and beyond.
At that time, a brilliant rabbi, Saul of Tarsus, who was a star pupil of the master teacher, Gamaliel, had assumed a personal vendetta against Christians. In Jerusalem, he proceeded to track down Christians in a house-to-house search and drag them off to jail.
Knowing that many had fled the city, Saul obtained letters from the high priest to take with him on a crusade to capture these Christ-followers and bring them back in chains. It was in the context of his preparations for this journey that those scathing words - "breathing murderous threats" - were used to describe his posture.
Then came his encounter on the road to Damascus and the rest, as they say, is history.
What a transformation took place during that encounter, but our Lord did not remove Saul's passion. Rather, he redirected it, that it might become a powerful tool for the gospel. He still was a force with which to be reckoned, however, now he was proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength.
In the process of his conversion, there is no point where, like Peter, he is specifically given a new name. It is almost more of a side note by St. Luke, who writes at the beginning of Saul's first missionary journey, "But Saul, also known as Paul." (Acts 13:9a)
While that may be the first time he is called Paul, it is the last time he is called Saul. St. Luke did not want us to forget that something remarkable happened in this man "who once was blind but now I see" as that great old hymn declares.
The conversion of St. Paul shows us that anything is possible with God. You can take the worst sinner and enemy of the Church and, with the work of the Holy Spirit, he or she can become a friend of God.
Many years ago I was working on a special curriculum certification for Religious Education. At one of the seminars we were divided into pairs and given the assignment of writing a paraphrase for a couple of verses of Scripture. Our text was Colossians 1:28-29 - Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ. For this I toil, striving with all the energy which he mightily inspires within me.
We wrote the following: "We see in everyone the fantastic potential of being an effective disciple of Jesus Christ. For this reason we labor with all the energy the God gives us to challenge and teach everyone in order to bring this about."
Looking through God's lens, the venomous rabbi who was breathing threats was merely a lost soul who was about to come into his calling. He was being viewed through the eyes of potential.
In today's society it is so easy for us to write people off. We have often polarized our perspectives, seeing those who do not agree with us as only the enemy. It may not be as simple as that.
Our challenge right now is to look at the world through these eyes - eyes of potential that see what someone could become rather what they are right now.
It was not very long after I had written that paraphrase that I encountered a young man that - while not venomous and hostile - was still quite unimpressed with the things of God. He was also not that impressed with me - or so it seemed - since I represented a world of faith with which he was not involved or interested. It would have been very easy to simply write him off.
For some reason, I didn't. Over time, as I got to know him, we were able to share more and more about life and ultimately about the Gospel that I held so dear. I was not only able to bring him ...
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