Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul
Thursday, January 25, 2024
Holy Ghost Church – 8:00 Mass
Acts 9:1-22; Psalm 117:1bc, 2; Mark 16:15-18
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, who was known as Saul of Tarsus prior to his conversion. Saul was a devout Jewish Pharisee who vigorously defended the law.
After Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven, the newfound Christian faith began to grow rapidly. As a result, Saul of Tarsus vigorously tried to end this new religion which he perceived as erroneous. He traveled about looking for followers of Jesus to arrest and imprison. Saul even gave his consent to the stoning of the deacon, Saint Stephen, the first martyr.
In today’s first reading we hear of his encounter with our risen Lord on the road to Damascus, where he intended to arrest the followers of “The Way”, which was the earliest name for Christianity. It refers to the fact that following Jesus is a whole way of life.
As he travels to Damascus, Jesus gently speaks, yet powerfully, speaks to him, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”. Paul asks the risen Christ who he is and his answer is earth-shattering for two primary reasons:
First, Jesus of Nazareth, whom Saul thought was not only dead but also cursed by God, and for this reason could not possibly be the Messiah, is alive and risen from the dead! Saul has become an eyewitness to the risen Jesus, as were the other apostles.
Second, the risen Jesus identifies himself with those who believe in him, those whom Saul is persecuting. Saul discovers that to lay a hand on Jesus’ followers is to lay a hand on Jesus himself. This self-identification of Jesus with his disciples later became the foundation for Paul’s theology of the Church as the “body of Christ,” one of his central themes.
Saul’s encounter with Christ is truly life-changing. However, take note that he remains blind until Ananias is sent to him to incorporate him into the Church through baptism.
While Saint Paul received the gospel, the good news about Jesus’ resurrection, from Christ himself on the road to Damascus, he is further instructed by a member of the Church (Ananias) about how to RESPOND to this revelation. Thus the initial divine revelation, which he received directly from God, was supplemented by the teaching he received through the mediation of the Church.
This account of Paul’s conversion emphasizes the importance of the Church in the ongoing formation of those who have had a conversion experience, as well as those who have yet to meet Jesus. This is the reason that the instruction we provide through our RCIA program and other faith formation programs is so essential for those who seek to enter into a life of faith and charity. This is why ongoing faith formation and frequent reception of the sacraments is so essential for all of us!
As Christians it’s critical that we all participate in the life of the Church, rather than assuming that we can grow spiritually on our own without the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ and the sacraments found only here in the Church.
In today’s Gospel passage Jesus commands his disciples to go out to all the world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. This is not an ask, it is a command from God himself. We must be willing to witness to Christ bravely, as Anaias did when he was sent to a man who was empowered to imprison him.
As Christians we must live a life of evangelization, inviting others to be baptized and enter into full communion with Christ and His Church. This is our mission; this is our call.
Reflect, today, upon the desire in the heart of Jesus to invite you into His mission. Though we may be unaware of the many ways God can use us, Jesus is fully aware of his plan for you. He sees all of our gifts and knows who He wants to draw to Himself through you. Like Saint Paul, Jesus has a plan to bring souls in the Kingdom through each one of us.
So today say “Yes” to Him and, like Saint Paul, do so with every fiber of your soul. This will allow God to do great things through you. It won’t always be easy, but there is no greater joy than knowing that you are being used as God’s chosen instrument to win souls for the Kingdom.
God bless you.