Tuesday January 25, 2005 Conversion of Saint Paul
Reading (Acts 22:3-16) Gospel (St. Mark 16:15-18)
In the first reading today, we hear the very famous account of the conversion of Saint Paul, how as he was going along the road to Damascus he suddenly saw this light and heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him. What can happen so easily when we hear this is that people get frustrated and they say, “Well, why doesn’t that happen to me? Why did that happen to Saint Paul but when my kids need to be converted why isn’t God doing something like that? When I need something, why doesn’t God make it so clear like He did to Saint Paul?”
First of all, there is a principle that you can keep in mind: The clearer God makes something, the more you are going to have to suffer. The reason for that is because you would have quit if He did not make it so obvious a long time ago. So count your blessings in that sense if He has not made it more clear to you, because most of us probably would not be able to handle too much more than what we already have to deal with anyway. And we probably do not even handle what we are dealing with very well most of the time, let alone thinking that we would have to handle an incredibly greater amount.
Beyond that, we also see that what was happening with Saint Paul is that God had chosen him as the one to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. Because of this, something extraordinary needed to happen specifically so Saint Paul would know what God’s Will for him was and he would carry it out without turning back. Even if he had thought for an instant about becoming a Christian, he certainly would not have thought about going to the Gentiles. Paul, as he himself tells us, was educated at the feet of Gamaliel, who, as I told you before, is regarded internationally as the greatest rabbi to have ever lived. Saint Paul was Gamaliel’s greatest student. So this is a man who knew the old law upside down and inside out, and he tells us that he was zealous for that law beyond any of his contemporaries. This was not somebody who was interested in going to the Gentiles, because the Gentiles were considered to be completely unclean. What God was asking of Saint Paul was to do in many ways exactly the opposite of what he thought was the right thing to do; and so, because of the nature of the call, it had to be more obvious.
The reason this happened to Saint Paul, as opposed to happening to someone else, is precisely because of who he was, because of the education he had, because of his zeal for the Lord, and because he would be the one who had the background to be able to do what he was being called to do, even though initially on the surface it would have seemed to him to be perhaps repulsive to think of going to the Gentiles and preaching the Gospel. He was trying to destroy the Gospel and he certainly did not want the Gentiles to be saved; that was not his mission, so he thought. And so God made it that obvious.
Now we could look at it and say, “If we were as zealous for the truth as Saint Paul was, maybe something like that would happen.” But if we were as zealous for the truth as Saint Paul was, it would not make any difference to us if something like that happened because all we would want is to serve God and it would not matter to us if something extraordinary took place or not. All that really matters is that we have our focus on Christ. Saint Paul had this extraordinary vision – but you have the Eucharist – and every single day you can come before the Lord. Saint Paul heard a voice and he saw a light; that was all. You get to receive Jesus Christ, which is infinitely greater than the event that happened to Saint Paul on the road to Damascus – infinitely greater. What happened to him was something that was external; what happens to each of us is something that is internal. It brought about Saint Paul’s conversion, but then he had to go beyond that. He had to learn the truth and he had to live it, not because he saw a vision, not because something extraordinary happened, but once he understood what the truth was, the vision did not matter anymore, all that mattered was Jesus Christ.
We already have Him. We do not need an extraordinary vision because the most extraordinary thing in the universe happens right on the altar every single day. But what has happened is it is so extraordinary that for us it has become ordinary and we tend to pay no attention. If what you are looking for is a miracle, if what you are looking for is a sign, if what you are looking for is for the Lord to somehow do something to let you know how much He loves you, then receive Holy Communion. Look at Him in the Blessed Sacrament, open your heart to Him, and you will see extraordinary things happen – not visions and voices – but a change in your own life. And when you see the change that happens in your own life, the deeper conversion and the deeper love for God, that is the greatest miracle of all. To think that God can take someone with a heart as hard as ours and open them up and turn them around, that is a miracle that is equal to what happened to Saint Paul on the road to Damascus.
So we do not need anything extraordinary because we have the most extraordinary thing right here. All we have to do is open our hearts, and there, in the silence of our hearts, allow the Lord to speak. As long as we are willing to listen, as long as we are willing to be obedient, we will see truly miraculous and extraordinary things happen within our own hearts.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.