January 25, 2016

Paul's conversion

January 25, 2016:  Conversion of St. Paul, Apostle

  • 'Eyeball' pin:  Saul's blindness and recovery of sight (1st reading)
  • 'Hand' tie pin:  Paul was led by the hand; Ananias laid hands on Saul (1st reading)
  • 'Lights' tie:  On the way to Damascus, a great light shone around Paul (1st reading)
  • 'Letters' tie bar:  Saul asked the high priest for 'letters' to allow him to bring Christians back in chains (1st reading)
  • 'Olympics' tie pin:  "Go out to all the world and tell the Good News" (psalm, gospel)
  • 'Car' tie pin:  Believers will 'drive' out demons,... (gospel)
  • 'Serpent' tie pin:  ...pick up serpents... (gospel)
  • White shirt:  Today's color


Pope Francis
Christian unity vespers homily:  Paul's conversion wasn't primarily moral but rather a transforming experience of the grace of Christ and a call to announce to everyone the Jesus he'd persecuted.  The call to be an Apostle is founded not on Paul’s human merits but rather God's goodness.  God's overflowing mercy is the sole basis of Paul's ministry, and what he must announce to everyone.
Paul's experience is similar to that of the community Peter writes to, a small and fragile community exposed to persecution, whom he calls a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession.  How comforting and amazing that we've been chosen to be part of God’s plan of salvation!  The Father loves us all and wants to save us all, so he calls some, so that through them his love can reach everyone.  Our mission is to announce the Lord's works, first and foremost the Paschal mystery.
All Christians have been called to proclaim God's mighty works.  Beyond the differences that separate us, there's a call from God.  We can make progress towards full communion not only when we come closer together, but also when we convert ourselves to the Lord, letting the Lord live and work in us.  When Christians listen to the Word of God together and put it into practice, they make important steps towards unity; not only the call unites us but also the mission.  We must announce God’s merciful love that has conquered and transformed us.  While we move towards full communion, we can develop forms of cooperation to help spread the Gospel.  By walking and working together, we're already united in the Lord.
There can be no authentic search for Christian unity without trusting in the Father’s mercy.  We ask for forgiveness for the sins of our divisions, an open wound in the Body of Christ.  I ask for mercy and forgiveness for Catholics' behavior towards other Christians that hasn't reflected Gospel values. I invite all Catholics to forgive if they've been offended by other Christians.  We can't erase what's has happened, but we don't want to let past faults contaminate our relationships.  God’s mercy will renew our relationships.
The only door that leads to salvation is Jesus Christ our Lord, the merciful face of the Father.  Let us unite ourselves with the prayer Jesus prayed to his Father:  “May they be one, so that the world may believe.”  Unity is the gift of mercy from God the Father.  We make our humble prayer, feeling it sustained by the intercession of Christian martyrs, who answered the Lord's call generously, giving faithful witness to God's wonderful works; they enjoy full communion in the God's presence.
World Communications Day message, continued:  Mercy should inspire political and diplomatic language.  Be attentive to how you speak of those who think or act differently or who may have made mistakes.  Don't stoke flames of mistrust, fear, or hatred, but guide people towards reconciliation.  Such boldness will solve conflicts and build peace.  “Blessed are the peacemakers; they will be called God's children.”
May our communicating, and our service, never suggest superiority or demean those the world considers lost.  Mercy can help mitigate troubles and offer warmth to those who have known only cold judgment.  May our communicating help overcome the mindset that separates sinners from the righteous.  We must judge sin, but not individuals, since only God can see into their hearts.  We must admonish those who err and denounce evil and injustice, to set victims free and raise up the fallen.  “The truth will make you free.”  The truth is Christ himself, whose mercy is the yardstick for measuring how we proclaim truth and condemn injustice.  We must uphold truth with love.  Only words spoken with love, meekness, and mercy can touch our sinful hearts.  Harsh and moralistic words and actions risk alienating those we wish to lead to conversion and freedom, reinforcing their sense of rejection and defensiveness. [to be continued]
  • Acts 22:3-16  Paul:  I, a Jew, persecuted this Way to death.  On my journey, a light shone around me, and I fell and heard, ‘Why are you persecuting me?  I am Jesus.  Go to Damascus and do as you're told.’  Ananias came and said, ‘Regain your sight,’ and I did.  ‘God designated you to know his will and hear his voice; you'll be his witness.  Call on him and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away.’
  • Acts 9:1-22  Saul asked for authority to bring to Jerusalem in chains any who belonged to the Way.  A light flashed; he heard, “Why are you persecuting me?  I am Jesus.  Go to the city and do what you're told.” Saul, blinded, was led to Damascus and didn't eat or drink.  God told Ananias: “Ask for Saul; he had a vision of you laying your hands on him to restore his sight.”  He replied, “He's done such evil and can imprison us all” but heard, “I've chosen him and will show him what he'll have to suffer.”  He entered and said, “God sent me that you may regain sight and be filled with the Spirit.”  He regained his sight, was baptized, recovered his strength, stayed with the disciples, and began to proclaim Jesus.  All were astounded.
  • Ps 117:1bc, 2  "Go out to all the world, and tell the good news."  Praise the kind and faithful Lord!
  • Mk 16:15-18  Jesus told the Eleven:  “Go into the world and proclaim the Gospel.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.  Believers will drive out demons, speak new languages, pick up serpents, drink poison without harm, and cure the sick.”
    • Creighton:  There's strong interplay between blindness and light in the 1st reading.  Saul had sight but was blinded by misguided zeal, yet it was when he lost his eyesight that he began to see inner light, even a vision of Ananias.  A well-meaning heart doesn't preclude blindness; Saul was following his good intention.  We need to test our good intentions, discerning what's from the “evil spirit” and the “good spirit.”  Following your heart uncritically can lead to wrong decisions.  Convincing ourselves that we're fighting on God’s side can blind us.  Jesus warned that a time would come when anyone killing you will think he is doing a holy service to God....

      The Conversion of St. Paul/ Michelangelo
    • One Bread, One Body:  "A future full of hope":  Paul was apostle, missionary, martyr, and saint; he founded churches and wrote much of the New Testament.  We may find it hard to relate to him, but he was human; he considered himself the worst sinner, an extreme case, weak and fearful, with a thorn in the flesh and a challenging physical condition.  He considered himself like someone doomed to die in the arena, a spectacle to the universe, a fool for Christ.  No matter how sinful, weak, rejected, and distressed you are, don't despair; the Lord will make something beautiful of your life like he did of Paul's.
    • Passionist:  The movement and growth of the Church took a different turn after Paul's conversion.  Jewish-born Saul of Tarsus was a Roman citizen.  As a Jew he learned and observed the law.  He approved of Stephen’s stoning.  After his conversion, he became a fearless preacher of the Word, established communities, formed leaders, and wrote his thoughts clearly.  He directed his missionary activity towards the Gentiles because of the Jews' obstinacy; he preached Christ as Savior of all and served him passionately.  It's scary that God can call us in our brokenness, but Paul's story encourages us to say yes.
    • DailyScripture.net:  "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel":  Jesus' departure and ascension was both an end and a beginning for his disciples:  the end of Jesus' physical presence with them, the beginning of his presence with them through the Spirit.  He sent them, and sends us, to proclaim the good news to all the world, by the power of his Spirit.  
    "Paul's conversion matured in his encounter with the Risen Christ; it radically changed his life.  What happened to him on the road to Damascus is what Jesus asks....  His and our conversion is believing in Jesus dead and risen and opening to the illumination of his grace.  When Saul understood his salvation didn't depend on good works fulfilled according to the law, but on Jesus' death and resurrection.  This truth overturns our way of life.  To be converted means to believe Jesus has given himself for me on the Cross and lives with and in me.  Entrusting myself to the power of his forgiveness, letting myself be taken by his hand, I can come out of pride, sin, deceit, sadness, selfishness, and false security to know and live the richness of his love." (Benedict XVI, 1/25/09, paraphrased)
    • Universalis:  We remember how Christ came to and converted Saul, who supported Stephen's stoning and persecuted Christians.

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