3 Sunday Ordinary Time - B
The Conversion of St. Paul–His and Ours
Jon 3:1-5, 10
The word of the LORD came to Jonah, saying:
"Set out for the great city of Nineveh,
and announce to it the message that I will tell you."
So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh,
according to the LORD'S bidding.
Now Nineveh was an enormously large city;
it took three days to go through it.
Jonah began his journey through the city,
and had gone but a single day's walk announcing,
"Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed,"
when the people of Nineveh believed God;
they proclaimed a fast
and all of them, great and small, put on sackcloth.
When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way,
he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them;
he did not carry it out.
Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
R. (4a) Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Your ways, O LORD, make known to me;
teach me your paths,
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my savior.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Remember that your compassion, O LORD,
and your love are from of old.
In your kindness remember me,
because of your goodness, O LORD.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Good and upright is the LORD;
thus he shows sinners the way.
He guides the humble to justice
and teaches the humble his way.
R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.
Paul addressed the people in these words:
"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
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.'"
After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
"This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel."
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee,
he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea;
they were fishermen.
Jesus said to them,
"Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men."
Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.
He walked along a little farther
and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets.
Then he called them.
So they left their father Zebedee in the boat
along with the hired men and followed him.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Usually this feast would not be celebrated when it occurs on a Sunday, but we celebrate it here in our Diocese, the Diocese of St. Petersburg, as it will be celebrated in many other archdioceses and dioceses throughout the world because our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, declared a Jubilee Year of St. Paul from June 29, 2008 to June 29, 2009, celebrating the 2,000 years since his birth.
After Jesus, St. Paul is the most significant figure in the New Testament. Of its 27 Books, 13 are letters attributed to St. Paul. More than half of the Acts of the Apostles is devoted to the apostolic activities of St. Paul as he sought to spread the Gospel. Indeed the story of his conversion is recorded there three times. (Acts 9:1-20, Acts 22:1-22, Acts 26:1-24)
We all know the scene of St. Paul’s conversion. There is the road to Damascus as Saul of Tarsus led a group of fervent Pharisees to go and cleanse that city of its followers of Christ. We have seen the paintings of the bright light with Christ in the middle, of the horse throwing Saul, and of his companions falling in fear. Actually, there is no horse in the scripture, Saul probably couldn’t afford one, but that is beside the point. The point is that Jesus appears to Saul and asks him, “Why are you persecuting me?” Not persecuting the Christians, but me. Jesus identifies with His Church, with us. Saul, as you know, is blinded. Fitting. He had been blind to God’s presence among the Christians. It would take one of these Christians Ananais, to help Saul receive his sight and recognize God in the Messiah.
But even what we get right only begins to tell the story. The conversion story is a tremendous one - but of course it is only the beginning. Conversion is one thing - what you make of it is another. AS Jesus said ‘By After his conversion, Paul travelled extensively through the Roman empire, preaching in synagogues and market places, setting up networks of small Christian communities, moving on rapidly to the next town, keeping in touch with these new Churches by letters of such eloquence and beauty that the Churches read them again and again. In his letters he did not repeat the parables of Christ, and gave few references to his words, but explained carefully the meaning of Him who came as the promised One for the Jews but also the Saviour of all humanity. He dealt with controversies in the young Churches; he encouraged and he reprimanded; he inspired by philosophy and poetry.
Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what man really is, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue this particular animal is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardor and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: "I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead." When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: "Rejoice and be glad with me!" And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: "I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution." These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them.
And we take him so much for granted that even though we hear his words at almost every Mass we celebrate, we rarely give him the significance which is his due: yet it is he who took the Gospel out of his own country, he who founded so many Christian Churches, he who expounded and clarified this new faith.
Although this feast celebrates that event, Paul’s conversion did not end on that road. It began on the road. He would go on to suffer for the faith. In Second Corinthians Paul states that five times he received forty lashes less one, three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, three times he was shipwrecked along with all sorts of other persecutions. Far more difficult than these persecutions was “the thorn in the flesh” he speaks of in 2 Corinthians 12. What was this, exactly? Was the thorn his temper? He often lost his temper, even with Peter in Jerusalem. Was it some sort of temptation to sin? Was it physical ailments? We don’t know. But we do know that Paul realized his complete dependence on Jesus, whose “power was made perfect in my weakness, (2 Corinthians 12:19.) One thing is for sure, Paul’s conversion began on the road to Damascus, but was not completed until his final moments before his execution in Rome. Nor is ours.
We may be cradle Catholics or we may have come into the faith through the RCIA. We may have always been united to God, or we may have strayed away and then come back. Our decision to embrace our baptism, perhaps to return to the Lord, is certainly a conversion, but it is only the beginning of the conversion. Through the Grace of God, our entire lives are consecutive moments of conversion, deepening conversions. Our entire liturgical year leads us to deepen our union with the Lord. Advent and Lent help us look at our lives and call upon the Lord to pick us up after we fall. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, call us to a deeper commitment to the Presence of God as one of us, to the Grace of our Baptism, to the work of the Spirit.
Can we do it? Can each of us be the person that God created us to be? Alone, no. We cannot. But we are not alone. St. Paul tells us in what is perhaps the most assuring sentence for all of us who join him in the process of conversion: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13).
Homily basing on: Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino