Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

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Acts 22:3-16; Ps 117:1-2; Mk 16:15-18:  Saul was trying to destroy this new Way; soon he poured himself out to proclaim Christ, the Way, Truth, and Life.  Certainly he was not a convert in the sense that he ceased being a Jew to become a Christian.  Rather, Saint Paul always saw himself as a Jew.  After his encounter with the Risen Christ, he saw himself as a truly faith filled and obedient Jew.  Saint Paul knew in his heart of hearts that the LORD is faithful and kind toward his people.  He also knew that the People of God are a people of purpose, God’s purpose.  From the beginning the LORD called a people to himself so that all peoples could hear the Good News and come to praise and glorify his Name.  The LORD did not destroy his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in order to establish a new covenant with the Church.  The LORD fulfills his covenant with our ancestors in the faith by offering us a new covenant in the Blood of the Lamb.  This is the truth that Saint Paul suffered to preach to the ends of the earth.  In the first reading we hear of a disciple named Ananias who approached Saint Paul while he was still blind and gave him new sight.  Then, he began to proclaim Jesus the Lord of every person and all the nations. As Saint Paul had been commanded, so too, all the apostles were commanded in today’s gospel to preach the Gospel and baptize all the nations.  This, too, is our heritage and our mission.  We cannot sit back on our laurels and ignore the fact that most people have not heard the good news.  What will it take to awaken us?  Do we have to fall to the ground or see a blinding light?

It is the zeal of the Apostle Paul that could be blinding in today’s celebration.  We are not very comfortable with religious zealots.  We hear of them in the media, and they are roundly mocked and flatly condemned.  Those who are a little too excited about God or God’s Word are often shown in news clips as wide-eyed and dangerous.  Not someone you would want your children to meet and befriend.  Saul was zealous for God and the Law of God. It was just this zeal that moved him to seek letters of certification so that he could put followers of Christ into chains and punish them for turning away from the ancient ways.  Any zeal that affirms violence is a deadly zeal. This kind of zeal is deadly, and it is this kind of zeal that was converted in the heart of Saul.  Saint Paul went from death dealing zeal to life giving zeal.  Such a miracle could only happen when he saw the Righteous One, and heard his voice. Note well, the Acts of the Apostles does not say that Saint Paul saw the face of the Risen Christ.  It says that, “…about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.  I fell to the ground and heard a voice…”  To see a great light and hear a thunderous voice is enough to conclude that the Lord Jesus appeared to Saint Paul, only if we listen closely to the dialogue.  Saint Paul was blinded by the overwhelming light; a light of truth that he heard during this conversation with the Lord Jesus. From the voice of the Master, the Apostle learned that the Body of Christ is composed of many members.  What one member feels the whole body feels. This blazing truth would be repeated in Saint Paul’s preaching throughout his apostolic ministry.  This great mystery, hidden from ages past, is now to be preached to the ends of the earth.  It is the very longing of The Father for his family to be one in Christ, The Son, that transforms Saul’s murderous threats into Saint Paul’s good news. Such is the influence and impact of the Holy Spirit upon this religious zealot, and if we are honest, this is the very transformation that most threatens us.  No one wants to be labeled a dangerous zealot by the media or by those we love most.

In the blinding light of Easter the Lord Jesus appeared to the Eleven and commanded them to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”  Only in the light of the risen Christ can one hear and trust such a command.  This is an impossible task.  Without the commission of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit no one could fulfill such a command.  Only gradually did the Eleven come to understand and fulfill the Lord’s instruction. These Eleven who were so commissioned were in the previous verses reprimanded for their lack of belief in the resurrection.  The very ones who were most hesitant to believe are called to spread the Good News. Saint Paul, too, was slow to believe that the Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of all the hopes of Israel. Saint Paul was more than hesitant; he was violently opposed to this proclamation.  Yet, after the brilliant light and the strong voice of the Lord Jesus, Saul became Saint Paul.  Not only will the Eleven and Saint Paul proclaim the truth of the Gospel, they will also work signs and wonders like the Master did to reveal the power and compassion of the Father whose Kingdom is Near.  Those who hear and repent, who listen and believe, these will be saved in baptism.  However, if they do not believe, they will be condemned.  Those who do not want to be saved, those who do not want to be forgiven, those who do not want to be healed, will not be.  No one, not even God, will force us to believe.  Our faith comes from a heart delighted with the voice and the brightness of the Lord Jesus.  It is this joy that moves us into a lifetime of faithful response.  This is the conversion of Saint Paul that must become our apostolic witness.