25 January – Feast of The Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle
Paul’s entire life can be explained in terms of one experience—his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, who was only a few years older. But he had acquired a zealot’s hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: “…entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” (Acts 8:3b). Now he himself was “entered,” possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal—being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Savior.
One sentence determined his theology: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5b). Jesus was mysteriously identified with people—the loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfilment of all he had been blindly pursuing.
So Paul’s great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more “works” than the Law could ever contemplate.
Paul said to the people, ‘I am a Jew and was born at Tarsus in Cilicia. I was brought up here in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was taught the exact observance of the Law of our ancestors. In fact, I was as full of duty towards God as you are today. I even persecuted this Way to the death, and sent women as well as men to prison in chains as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify, since they even sent me with letters to their brothers in Damascus. When I set off it was with the intention of bringing prisoners back from there to Jerusalem for punishment.
‘I was on that journey and nearly at Damascus when about midday a bright light from heaven suddenly shone round me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” I answered: Who are you, Lord? and he said to me, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, and you are persecuting me.” The people with me saw the light but did not hear his voice as he spoke to me. I said: What am I to do, Lord? The Lord answered, “Stand up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told what you have been appointed to do.” The light had been so dazzling that I was blind and my companions had to take me by the hand; and so I came to Damascus.
‘Someone called Ananias, a devout follower of the Law and highly thought of by all the Jews living there, came to see me; he stood beside me and said, “Brother Saul, receive your sight.” Instantly my sight came back and I was able to see him. Then he said, “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Just One and hear his own voice speaking, because you are to be his witness before all mankind, testifying to what you have seen and heard. And now why delay? It is time you were baptised and had your sins washed away while invoking his name.”’
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.
Anything worth doing well takes time. Time in the active sense; unlike with the fermentation of wine in unseen caves, but in the fervent nudging and gnawing of our stubbornness. I’m drawn to the idea of conversion, but also quickly realise how plodding the endeavor will be. Will I give up, or stay the course?
How can my conversion begin in the now of today? And will I determine its timeline? Will my conversion ever be complete? With these questions in mind, I have sought to chip away at parts of my life that no longer hold place in my Christian existence. I “eat the frog” every morning, spending time on the most challenging item on my to-do list. I also wear sunblock before I head out, and consume less sugar throughout the day (bye bye random mints). I set aside a block of time each week to take stock of my finances, and learn more about investing. I’m in the process of spring cleaning my house, discarding items that no longer spark joy. I’ve also been getting more sleep, much to the chagrin of my Netflix account.
With innovation and creating capacity being the buzzwords of our connected lives, I’m seeking to reinvent myself for His greater good. In making space for ourselves, we untangle resources that can be invested towards Christian dividends.
I urge all of you to join me in my conversion struggle. Let’s run this race together.
(Today’s Oxygen by Anonymous)
Prayer: I pray for the grace to always be present, realising that my struggles are best tackled in the here and now.
Thanksgiving: Thank you dear Lord, for unfogging my glasses; you’ve shown me the path towards becoming the best version of myself.