Sunday, January 25, 2009

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle


Additional Information about the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul[1]

Readings for the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul[2]

Readings and Commentary:
[3]

Reading 1:
Acts 22:3-16

"I (Paul) am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia,
but brought up in this city.
At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law
and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today.
I persecuted this Way to death,
binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.
Even the high priest and the whole council of elders
can testify on my behalf.
For from them I even received letters to the brothers
and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem
in chains for punishment those there as well.

"On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'
I replied, 'Who are you, sir?'
And he said to me,
'I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.'
My companions saw the light
but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
I asked, 'What shall I do, sir?'
The Lord answered me, 'Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told about everything
appointed for you to do.'
Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light,
I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.

"A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law,
and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
came to me and stood there and said,
'Saul, my brother, regain your sight.'
And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.
Then he said,
'The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before all
to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay?
Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away,
calling upon his name.'"
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Commentary on
Acts 22:3-16

This is the second account given in Acts of Paul’s conversion experience. In this account Paul himself recalls his role in the Hebrew Temple as an enforcer. The reason related for his trip to Damascus was the persecution of Christians whom he was to return to Jerusalem in Chains. By this miraculous event, Saul who is renamed to Paul, becomes a witness to the resurrected Christ and an Apostle.

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Or:
Acts 9:1-22

Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that,
if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way,
he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus,
a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"
He said, "Who are you, sir?"
The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do."
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless,
for they heard the voice but could see no one.
Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias,
and the Lord said to him in a vision, Ananias."
He answered, "Here I am, Lord."
The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight."
But Ananias replied,
"Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man,
what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests
to imprison all who call upon your name."
But the Lord said to him,
"Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine
to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,
and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name."
So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
"Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.

He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus,
and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,
that he is the Son of God.
All who heard him were astounded and said,
"Is not this the man who in Jerusalem
ravaged those who call upon this name,
and came here expressly to take them back in chains
to the chief priests?"
But Saul grew all the stronger
and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus,
proving that this is the Christ.
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Commentary on
Acts 9:1-22

This selection is the first the three accounts of Paul’s conversion. In this passage we are given more details about the events leading up to Saul’s actual experience adding the mind set of Ananias and his fear of approaching Saul because of is reputation. We are also given a little Hebrew numerology as we hear that Saul neither ate nor drank for three days, the same period Jesus was in the Tomb, prior to his conversion.

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Responsorial Psalm:
[4] Psalm 117:1bc, 2

R. (Mark 16:15) Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Praise the Lord, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever.
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
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Commentary on
Ps 117:1bc, 2

“This shortest of hymns calls on the nations to acknowledge God's supremacy. The supremacy of Israel's God has been demonstrated to them by the people's secure existence, which is owed entirely to God's gracious fidelity.”
[5]

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Reading II:
1 Corinthians 7:29-31

I tell you, brothers and sisters, the time is running out.
From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,
those weeping as not weeping,
those rejoicing as not rejoicing,
those buying as not owning,
those using the world as not using it fully.
For the world in its present form is passing away.
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Commentary on
1 Cor 7:29-31

St. Paul is answering questions put to him by the Corinthians (
1 Corinthians 7:1-11:1). In this short passage we see the Apostles vision that the Eschaton is upon them, that is Christ’s second coming is eminent, to take place before their deaths (“For the world in its present form is passing away.”). His advice here has two levels of meaning. Understood from the perspective of the eminent return of Christ, the members of the community are to rejoice in the coming salvation. “The world . . . is passing away: Paul advises Christians to go about the ordinary activities of life in a manner different from those who are totally immersed in them and unaware of their transitoriness.”[6] Understood in a later period, he is echoing Christ’s urgency to reform, not to delay for “…you know neither the day nor the hour.” (Matthew 25:13).

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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.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They 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."
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Commentary on
Mk 16:15-18

In this passage we are given St. Mark’s version of Jesus’ final commissioning of the Apostles. This Gospel account is the final recorded meeting between Jesus and the Apostles. Given to us as it is, on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, it is important because it supports the mission Paul is given in his time of conversion; “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” This mission was shared by Paul.

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Reflection:

The Church finds the conversion of St. Paul to be so central to its purpose it has dedicated a Feast in its honor. On this Feast we ask ourselves a question’ why are we celebrating this event and what relevance does it have for me?

Yes, it was a spectacular intervention by Jesus and the Holy Spirit into the life of the Church. Saul, who is Paul, was given the task of taking the faith in Jesus, the “Way” as it was called by the early Christians, to the Gentiles. Without his acceptance of that mission we know the name of Christ would have taken much longer to reach the known world.

It does show us once more the mystery of God’s plan. The Lord could have taken any of his existing converts and assigned that task to them. Instead he picks not just a member of the Pharisaic Community, but one of the most zealous, prone to violence against the early converts. In addition to his stated purpose for the mission to Damascus of bringing those who had come to believe in Christ (people he called heretics and blasphemers) back in chains to face the Sanhedrin, Paul is thought to be the same Saul that authorized the stoning of our first martyr, the Deacon, St. Stephen. No, the Lord did not pick and easy target, he chose a passionate person who was misguided.

Jesus looked into Saul’s heart and saw there the overwhelming desire to do God’s will. Paul admits in the account from Acts that he was trained in Mosaic Law (“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city. At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law”) All the Lord needed to do to gain an effective servant was to give Saul that last piece of understanding, that the very person Saul was persecuting was the Son of the God he served.

We have answered the first part of our question; why do we celebrate this conversion event? But what is its relevance for us? We see in Saul, to some degree, ourselves. Part of us is always fighting the Lord. It is easier not to love one another, to allow our natural selves be guided by the evil one on a course that leads to our destruction. We see in the converted St. Paul what we wish to become.

We see in St. Paul, through his conversion, how our internal conflict should be resolved. We see in the Apostle’s example of zealous love for the Lord, the way we want to be. We have answered the question. St. Paul’s conversion should be echoed by our own ongoing conversion. Even though we might say “But I do not need conversion, I am already a Christian.” We recall that St. Paul was already in love with the Father as well. Just as he needed to come to a complete understanding of what God was calling him to be, we must daily look deeper into our own call to holiness. Our prayer today is that our eyes might be as completely opened as were St. Paul’s and that we too might become the “Way “for others to follow.

Pax

[1] The picture used is “The Conversion of St. Paul” by Caravaggio, 1600
[2] ALTRE
[3] Text of Readings is taken from the New American Bible, Copyright © Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[4] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved
[5] See NAB footnote on Ps 117
[6] See NAB footnote on 1 Cor 7:29-31

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