Today the Church celebrates the conversion of one of the greatest followers of Jesus: the apostle Saint Paul. When we first meet Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, he is clearly a young rabbi who had a hatred for the followers of Jesus. As St. Stephen was being stoned, those who took part in his martyrdom laid their cloaks at Paul’s feet. This zealot is described as entering house after house and dragging men and women out to hand them over for imprisonment (cf. Acts 8:3b).
As Paul approached Damascus with letters to bring back to Jerusalem any he found living as followers of the Way, Jesus met him. Surrounded by blinding light, Paul, who had been “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” was humbled to the ground. Instead of speaking, he was made to listen. This heart that had been filled with such hatred for the followers of Jesus found, suddenly and immediately, a love beyond his comprehension from the very one he had been persecuting.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” Jesus told him. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (v 5-6).
Paul’s call, his conversion, left him blind, and like a child, he was led into Damascus where he was baptized three days later by Ananias, a member of the community of disciples he had intended to round up and take back to Jerusalem for punishment.
Paul was called. Paul was converted, changed, transformed. Paul was baptized so that he would carry out the mission Jesus had chosen him for: to go into the whole world, far beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem, to proclaim the good news to every creature.
Paul’s call has become the paradigm of every Christian calling since. We are called not for ourselves, but for others. We are loved, not to hold that sense of God’s love for us close to our own hearts, but to give it away to as many people as possible. We are transformed so that we might radiate to the world what it is to be truly human, truly Christ-like, totally Christian. In other words, today’s feast is a window onto the most important task you and I have on this earth: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”
After Paul regained his sight, he immediately began to preach to the Jews of Damascus about Jesus. He was met with disbelief and threats against his life. Paul had to learn that this mission to go to the very ends of the earth spurred on by the love of Christ, though a huge task, wasn’t going to be accomplished on his own terms. Eventually, he was sent away by the disciples to Tarsus. For three years he waited in study and prayer until Barnabas remembered him and thought he might be able to help out the community in Antioch.
The Church is given a great commission to proclaim the gospel to every creature, and yet in our experience, the best and the brightest and the most promising people are often sidelined or walk away. People don’t get along and it seems that perfect opportunities are missed. There is so much to do we want to get started right away, throwing ourselves into the project, and God tells us to wait and study and pray. We devise strategies and develop plans, and God undoes them all to bring about his own. Sometimes I feel that these are the signs that accompany those who believe. More than healing the sick and driving out demons, speaking new languages, and picking up serpents with our bare hands, God leaves us in confusion and humility as we wait upon his Word. What set-back or suffering are you bearing for the sake of the Gospel?
You and I are commissioned to share with every person on this earth the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. To whom is God sending you today to share the good news?
Praying with this passage of Scripture
Lectio Divina is a way of listening to God as he speaks in his Word. It is a practice of communicating with God through Scripture and attending to God’s presence and what he wishes to tell us. In this slow and prayerful reading of the Word of God, we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit who forms us into the image of Christ.
There are four movement in Lectio Divina: Read (lectio), Meditate (meditation), Pray (oratio), Contemplate (contemplation).
Begin by finding a still space to pray. Breathe deeply and become quieter within. Abandon any agenda, worries or thoughts you bring to this prayer and entrust these things to the merciful care of God. Ask for the grace to be receptive to what God will speak to you through this Scripture reading. Grant me, Jesus Divine Master, to be able to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God and your unfathomable riches. Grant that your word penetrate my soul; guide my steps, and brighten my way till the day dawns and darkness dissipates, you who live and reign forever and ever Amen.
Begin by slowly and meditatively reading your Scripture passage out loud. Listen for a particular word or phrase that speaks to you at this moment and sit with it for a time.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.
Meditate (meditatio) – Read the same passage a second time. As you re-engage the text, let the word or phrase that stood out become your invitation to speak from your heart with God who wishes to share his heart with you. Allow this word or phrase to wash over you and permeate your thoughts and feelings. You may wish to repeat this phrase quietly and gently for a period of time.
Pray (oratio) – Read the text a third time. Listen for what God is saying to you. Speak heart to heart with God. Notice the feelings that this conversation with God raises up within you. Share with God what you notice about your response to this conversation. You may wish to return to repeating the phrase quietly and gently, allowing it to permeate you more and more deeply.
Read the text a final time. Now be still and rest in God’s embrace. Ask God to give you a gift to take with you from this prayer. You might ask God if he is inviting you to do some action, for instance, make some change in your thoughts, attitudes or reactions, in the way you speak or how you treat others. Thank God for this gift and invitation as you conclude your prayer.
Photo Credit: Rembrandt, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons