The Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

Today’s readings

If we think that we are the ones who get to determine the direction of our lives, we are dead wrong.

Look at Saul: educated in all the finest Jewish schools, well-versed in the Law and the Prophets, and zealous for the faith to a fault. He was absolutely the model Jewish man and had credentials that came directly from the high priests. Everyone knew of him, and his fame – or infamy – spread all over the Judean countryside. He had participated in the stoning of St. Stephen, letting the cloaks of the ones stoning him be piled at his feet. He was bringing all the followers of Christ back in chains to be tried and punished for following this new way. He was even on his way to Damascus to collect “the brothers” – the apostles – and put them on trial. The man was greatly feared.

Look at Ananias. He was no fool. He was well-acquainted with Saul’s evil plans and did everything he could to stay out of his path. He obviously wanted to stay out of prison, but more than that, he wanted to keep people like Saul from destroying the community of the followers of Jesus. Ananias was every bit as zealous for the faith as Saul was.

They both knew the direction of their lives and thought they had it all planned out. But they were dead wrong.

God can take the most zealous and stable of us and throw our whole lives into confusion. He sometimes uses great means to get our attention and move us in a new direction. Like a bright light, or a vision. But sometimes he uses quiet words in prayer or the gentle nudging of a friend. Conversion is a life-long process for all of us, and in St. Paul’s and Annanias’s stories, we can see the danger of being too entrenched in what we think is right. The only judge of what is really right for us is God alone, and when we forget that, we might be in for a rude awakening.

The whole purpose of all of our lives, brothers and sisters, is to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” The way that we do that is to constantly listen for God’s voice and always be willing to go wherever he leads us.

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Saul is proof that God’s ways are not our ways.  How is it that God would pick for one of his chief Apostles a man who imprisoned and murdered the followers of the Christian Way?  That had to surprise even, and perhaps especially Saul, whose life was turned completely upside-down.  Poor Ananias had to be quaking in his boots to carry out this command of the Lord.  But thankfully both Paul and Ananias were obedient to the Lord’s command, and we are the ones who have benefited from that.  Not only has the Word of God been passed on through their faithfulness, but we see in their lives that obedience to God’s will, while it may not always make sense, is the way that true disciples live.

And true discipleship is beginning to be an issue in the Bread of Life Discourse from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel. We’ve been hearing it all week. Jesus has fed the five thousand, and they continue to clamor after him. Only he’s not giving them bread and fish the last few days. Now he’s challenging them to eat his Flesh and drink his Blood – this is Saint John’s version of the giving of the Eucharist. They aren’t getting it and they’re not going to stick around and hear much more of it – at least many of them are getting ready to leave.

But God’s ways are infinitely richer than our little intelligence and inadequate imagination and faltering faith. God wants so much more for us than we’re ready to ask for – he wants to give us his very self to fill us up and make us whole and bring us to heaven. The question is, will we let him obscure our vision so that we can see clearly (as he did for Saint Paul), or put us in the firing line so that we can really live (as he did for Ananias), or die for us so that we can live with him, as he did for his disciples and for us? Are we ready to have our lives turned upside-down so that we can get back on track?

Because that’s the only way we’re really going to live.