1.25.18 Thurs. Wk 3 –O.T. – (II)
Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle
The Acts of Apostles 22: 3 – 16
Gospel Mark 16: 15 – 18
Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.17These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages.18They will pick up serpents [with their hands], and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” The Gospel of the Lord.
Homily: Fr. Mike Murphy Living With the Truth
Antonin Sertillanges (+1948) was a French Dominican philosopher and spiritual author in the last century, and he defined “conversion” this way: “Conversion means a willingness to see the truth of things and conform one’s conduct to it”. The word “conversion” comes from the Latin, “con veritas” – “with truth”. The conversion of St. Paul occurred when he chose to live with the truth.
St. Paul was a deeply religious man. He lived his Jewish faith with great sincerity. He described himself this way: “At the feet of Gamaliel, I was educated strictly in our ancestral law, and was zealous for God” (Acts 22:3ff). Saul was like many people: sincere in their beliefs even though what they believe might not be the whole truth. Saul followed the Commandments given by God. But, over the centuries, Jewish religious leaders had legislated love out of the Law in favor is strict rabbinic laws, like, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Ex. 21:24). †Jesus came to proclaim the “Good News” of God’s love, mercy and compassion. This past weekend, as Pro-Life advocates gathered in cities around the country, pro-choice and pro-abortion demonstrators gathered to claim a woman has a right to kill her unborn child. They are sincere in their belief. They say it is the “law of the land” but, that does not make it God’s truth.
When Saul was struck down on the road to Damascus, we read: “(He was) unable to see, even though his eyes were open” (Acts 9:8). There are many people, including Christians, who live their lives blinded by the false gods of the secular culture. St. Paul would write in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, so that they may not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2; Cor. 4:4). We can be blinded by the lies of the culture. Sin has caused “scales” to form around hearts; hiding the truth. This is what it means to live the “false self”; that part of me driven by selfishness and willfulness: choosing my will over God’s will.
For St. Paul, physical blindness symbolized the wisdom of the world that he embraced. He saw the Cross of †Jesus Christ as complete folly. To him, †Jesus was a criminal, a blasphemer who received just punishment. On the road to Damascus, Saul’s encounter with the person of Christ radically changed his life. He was able to see the truth. He would spend the rest of his life “con veritas”, with the truth; with †Jesus: “The Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6). Pope Benedict XVI, taught: “This truth, by which every Christian life is enlightened…completely overturns our way of life. To be converted means, also for each one of us, to believe that †Jesus ‘has given Himself for me’, dying on the Cross (cf.Gal.2:20) and, risen, lives with me, and in me” (25 January 2009). Conversion is the experience of †Jesus taking you by the hand and pulling you out of your false self to live your true self. My true self is the belief and conviction: “I am one who is loved by Christ”. You are loved by Christ. Even the gravest sinner is loved by Christ.
How do we embrace this truth? Again, we look to the experience of St. Paul. On the Road to Damascus †Jesus had a conversation with Saul: “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ (Saul) said: ‘Who are you, sir?’ The reply came: ‘I am †Jesus, the Nazorean, whom you are persecuting’” (Acts 22: 7-8). St. Paul’s conversion began with a conversation; a conversation with †Jesus. Living the truth of †Jesus, experiencing a conversion of heart, begins with prayer, a daily conversation with the Lord. †Jesus began a conversation with Saul to open his heart, to confront him with the false self he was living; the false self that had blinded him. In self-reflection, Saul began to examine his life. If we want to discover our true self, to live with the truth, it begins through conversation with the Lord; allowing the Holy Spirit to expose the false self that has blinded us. St. Paul saw the beauty of the Cross; the love expressed by the death of †Jesus; Paul saw the light of the truth. Paul then chose a life of “kenosis”; self-emptying, dying to self. He accepted a new life in Christ; a life founded on the truth of the Gospel. St. Catherine of Siena wrote: “That dear preacher, Paul…was a wolf, but became a lamb, a gracious vessel of love; and the fire with which God filled his vessel, he carried through the whole world”.
Renew, today, your conversation with the Lord. †Jesus is closer to you than you are to yourself. Allow patience in your prayer. It may take time to discern His voice among all the voices vying for your attention; the false voices we are more familiar with. The Lord is there to remove the scales from our heart; to lead us from the false self to discover our true self: we are loved by God and called to holiness.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.