Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22 / Mark 16:15-18
Jesus instructs his disciples; “Proclaim the good news.”
The Irish Express for Friday, October 3,1986, carried a front-page story describing how manager David Hay of the Glasgow Celtics forbade his soccer players to bless themselves on the playing field. Hay said it might be an acceptable practice in other nations, but not in Scotland, where it tends to be inflammatory.
“Religion is a private matter....I want to nip this whole thing in the bud before it becomes a matter of controversy.” Whether or not it is appropriate to witness to one’s beliefs on a playing field is open to question. But what is not open to question is that we must witness to the Gospel. Jesus made this unquestionably clear. What kind of witness do we give to the Gospel? “Not the cry, but the flight of the wild duck leads the flock to fly and follow.” Chinese proverb
Jesus reveals himself to Paul: “I am Jesus, whom you persecute.”
We sometimes hear people say, “I believe in God, and I believe in Jesus, but I don’t believe in the Church.” When we hear people say this, we want to cry out: “But there’s no Jesus apart from the Church. Ever since Pentecost, Jesus and his Church have formed one body.” Trying to separate Jesus from the community of his followers is like trying to separate one’s head from one’s body.
That’s the burden of the voice’s response to Paul in today’s reading: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute.” Do we sometimes make the mistake of thinking about Jesus as being separate from his body, the Church? “[Jesus] is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body’s life.” Colossiansl:18
Of all the 27 books in the New Testament, 13 are attributed to St. Paul, and the book of the Acts of the Apostles has many accounts of what St. Paul did and said. The letters of St. Paul describe the meaning of a Christian life and spirituality. There is no doubt that the letters of St. Paul was very influential in the time of the early Church as well as even now.
What is really surprising is that St. Paul, when he was known as Saul before his conversion, was a feared persecutor of Christians and that he was even sent by the high priest and the whole council of the Jewish elders to the neighbouring Damascus to capture Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.
What is even more surprising is that Jesus would choose such a man, who was there at the stoning of St. Stephen, and with so much blood of Christians in his hands.
So, it was there on the road to Damascus that a bright light shone around Saul and he fell to the ground and he heard a voice and then he realized that in persecuting Christians he was actually persecuting Jesus, and subsequently he was struck blind.
And it was ironic that he was healed of his blindness by a Christian called Annanias. The very people that he persecuted was also the ones who healed him.
The conversion of St. Paul reminds us of what Jesus taught us in the gospel - to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. As much as the Christians at that time feared Saul the persecutor, they prayed for him and he became St. Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles. And in the account of the healing of St. Paul's blindness, it was also a Christian who healed him. So let us believe that in praying for our enemies, Jesus will shine His light on them. May we also be courageous to offer them healing and reconciliation.
CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL – FEAST - Liturgy
Paul’s conversion must have been a tremendous change of mentality for him, a real conversion. Not only did a Jew who became a Christian at the same time become an outcast to his people, as he was considered a renegade, a traitor, but Paul had also been a rabbi, a Pharisee, a rabid persecutor of Christians.
And now, he follows Jesus. Christ has become his life. Like his Lord, he sits at table with sinners and tax collectors and pagans. From now on, his life is given to Christ and his kingdom, a community in which there is no more distinction between Greek and barbarian, between slaves and free citizens, between men and women, and especially between Jew and non-Jew.
Lord our God, Father of all let our celebration today of the conversion of St. Paul become for us too, a deep experience of conversion and encounter with you. Let this feast make us more aware that whatever evil we do to others, we do to you and the good we do, the love we show, we give also to you. Like St. Paul, make us love everyone. We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Commentary: How does it feel to have been schooled in the best of traditions and to pattern many decades of life after what one had learned to be the truth, only to be struck down and left blinded with the realization that all those years one had been fighting the Truth? It takes great courage, humility, and nobility of heart to acknowledge that one was in the wrong and to embrace the Truth that was once the enemy. Paul showed such courage, humility, and nobility of heart. Is there anyone who does not need conversion? Our conversions might not be as dramatic as Paul’s. Nonetheless, we are constantly challenged by the Truth in its daily revelations, inviting us to review and revise our understanding of God and others. The Truth is not something we hold; the Truth holds us. And we let ourselves be grabbed and surprised by the Truth. And we are called to share with the world this experience of being held by the Truth, as Paul did.
-For unity in the Church and in our world, that people from all races, cultures and social classes may fully accept one another as children of the same heavenly Father, we pray:
– For those who persecute people because of their religion, that the prayers and death of the martyrs may change their hearts, we pray:
– For those who are persecuted because of their faith, that they may remain steadfast believers, we pray:
– For all of us, that Christ may be and remain our life and the meaning of what we are and do, we pray:
Father of all, may the day come that all of humankind, wherever they live, whoever they are, in all their variety and gifts, may know your Son, Jesus Christ, listen to his Word and eat from his table. Let your whole Church today continue the work of St. Paul with great zeal and conviction. This we ask through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Prayer after Communion
God of all people and nations, may everyone deeply encounter your Son Jesus and may he become the life of all. May he indeed live in us, in our joys and sorrows, in our hopes and aspirations, in our loves and friendships. Let him be the light and the meaning of what we are and do. In this way let us attract everyone to Jesus Christ, our Lord.
After the conversion of Paul, Ananias told him: “You are to be the witness before all humankind of the Just One, Christ, testifying to what you have seen and heard.” We have to testify to the one we have met, Christ, with the blessing of Almighty God, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.