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.

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

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 Saint 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” – that is, 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.

Saints Peter & Paul, Apostles

In today’s Gospel, Peter and the others are asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Now, both Peter and Paul were committed to the truth about who Christ was. They had too much at stake to let that go. Having both messed up their estimation of who Jesus was earlier in their lives, they knew the danger of falling into the trap. So for them Jesus could never be just a brother, friend or role model – that was inadequate. And both of them proclaimed with all of their life straight through to their death that Jesus Christ is Lord. We too on this day must repent of the mediocrity we sometimes settle for in our relationship with Christ. He has to be Lord of our lives and we must proclaim him to be that Lord to our dying breath. We must never break faith with Saints Peter and Paul, who preserved that faith at considerable personal cost.

Perhaps Saints Peter and Paul can inspire our own apostolic zeal. Then, as we bear witness to the fact that Jesus is Lord of our lives and of all the earth, we can bring a banal world to relevance. Perhaps in our renewed apostolic zeal we can bring justice to the oppressed, right judgment to the wayward, love to the forgotten and the lonely, truth to a society that settles for relativism, and faith to a world that has lost sight of anything worth believing in. One might say that that is the Church’s mission, but actually the mission is what is of primary importance. And so we believe that the apostolic mission has a Church, and it’s time for the Church to be released from its chains and burst forth to give witness in the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, Peter and the others are asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  We heard this Gospel story just last weekend.  Now, both Peter and Paul were committed to the truth about who Christ was.  They had too much at stake.  Having both messed up their estimation of who Jesus was earlier in their lives, they knew the danger of falling into the trap.  So for them Jesus could never be just a brother, friend or role model – that was inadequate.  And both of them proclaimed with all of their life straight through to their death that Jesus Christ is Lord.  We too on this day must repent of the mediocrity we sometimes settle for in our relationship with Christ.  He has to be Lord of our lives and we must proclaim him to be that Lord to our dying breath.  We must never break faith with Saints Peter and Paul, who preserved that faith at considerable personal cost.

Perhaps Saints Peter and Paul can inspire our own apostolic zeal.  Then, as we bear witness to the fact that Jesus is Lord of our lives and of all the earth, we can bring a banal world to relevance.  Perhaps in our renewed apostolic zeal we can bring justice to the oppressed, right judgment to the wayward, love to the forgotten and the lonely, truth to a society that settles for relativism, and faith to a world that has lost sight of anything worth believing in.  One might say that that is the Church’s mission, but actually the mission is what is of primary importance.  And so we believe that the apostolic mission has a Church, and it’s time for the Church to be released from its chains and burst forth to give witness in the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The story goes that one day, Saint Teresa of Avila was wheeling a cart across a bridge over the river. At one point along the bridge’s passage, a wheel of the cart got stuck in the planks, and Teresa had to wrestle the cart to get going again. In the struggle, the cart tipped over, and its entire contents spilled out and into the river. As she looked at all her stuff floating down the river, she said, “Well, God, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them!”

I am guessing that we have all had at least one time in our lives when we have felt like Saint Teresa in that moment.  I confess that I have had a week like that: my mother was without power in her house from Sunday to late Thursday, my aunt has had to go to a nursing facility at least for a month, I have a friend of the family who is at the end of his life, we have had a number of funerals over the last couple of weeks, and the heat has certainly taken its toll on staff relations.  So I can just imagine how Saint Teresa felt with all her stuff floating down the river.

Not that I’m Saint Teresa, mind you; I can only aspire to her level of holiness and her friendship with God that made such a conversation possible.  But I know how an accumulation of nastiness can drain one’s reserve of faith.  And it’s a great danger.  Last week’s Gospel showed how the faith of two people led to great healing: Jairus’s daughter was resuscitated from the dead, and the woman with a hemorrhage was cured after twelve long years.  But today’s Gospel shows us how a lack of faith prevented Jesus from doing much in the way of healing at all.

And so today, maybe we can take away two role models for having faith when it seems hard to do.  Saint Paul struggled with a “thorn in the flesh” – whatever it was for him – and remained faithful.  Saint Teresa grappled with the frustrations of daily living and remained a very holy woman.  May they be our intercessors when our reserve of faith is waning and the heat of the day is overwhelming.  And as the Psalmist models for us: may we be those who keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, pleading for his mercy.

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

At our core, we all want peace and security in our lives.  We don’t want rough waters, or pain, or discord in our families, and that’s all understandable.  I think it’s that very same sentiment that is behind our Scripture readings today.

The Jewish people, the elders and the scribes, the religious establishment of the time, had their laws and customs, and for them, following those laws and customs represented a peaceful and secure life.  So they were not at all open to any kind of teaching that challenged their way of life.  Stephen points out that whenever a prophet called them to a deeper reality, a deeper sense of God’s call, rather than accept that teaching and reform their lives, their ancestors instead murdered the prophets.  And so their response was to prove his point.  They could not accept Stephen’s own prophecy that Christ in his glory was the key to human salvation.  So they stone him to death, with the tacit approval of a man named Saul, a man for whom God had future plans.

The crowd in the Gospel reading wants peace and security too.  They had recently been fed in the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  But they had missed the point.  They wanted just the bread they could eat for today; they didn’t get and didn’t want to get the bread Jesus really wanted them to have – the bread of eternal life.  And so they ask today for another feeding sign.  Just like Moses was able to provide bread from heaven, they wanted Jesus to feed their physical hunger too.  But Jesus is more interested in their spiritual hunger, and longs to provide that in himself, he who is the bread of life.

But if all we hunger for is peace and security, bread for today, then we will certainly miss receiving the Bread of Life.  Our hearts have to be open and our desires have to be for the deepest longings.  Then we can receive our Savior who wants to give us everything we truly need.  “I am the bread of life;” he says to us.  “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

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.

Saints Peter and Paul

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, Peter and the others are asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” Both Peter and Paul were committed to the truth about who Christ was. They had too much at stake. Having both messed up their estimation of who Jesus was earlier in their lives, they knew the danger of falling into the trap. So for them Jesus could never be just a brother, friend or role model – that was inadequate. And both of them proclaimed with all of their life straight through to their death that Jesus Christ is Lord. We too on this day must repent of the mediocrity we sometimes settle for in our relationship with Christ. He has to be Lord of our lives and we must proclaim him to be that Lord to our dying breath.  We must never break faith with Saints Peter and Paul, who preserved that faith at considerable personal cost.

Perhaps Saints Peter and Paul can inspire our own apostolic zeal. Then, as we bear witness to the fact that Jesus is Lord of our lives and of all the earth, we can bring a banal world to relevance. Perhaps in our renewed apostolic zeal we can bring justice to the oppressed, right judgment to the wayward, love to the forgotten and the lonely, and faith to a world that has lost sight of anything worth believing in. To paraphrase Cardinal Francis George, the apostolic mission still has a Church, and it’s time for the Church to be released from its chains and burst forth to give witness in the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father

Saturday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

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Today’s readings speak to us about the virtue of persistence.  St. Paul was one who modeled persistence in his life and ministry.  He quite often ran up against not only opposition, but also danger and imprisonment designed to thwart his preaching.  But Paul was filled with the Spirit and would not let anything deter him from doing the Lord’s work.  And so he could easily encourage, well, even command Timothy to “be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching.”

And we need to hear this encouragement too.  Because it’s easy enough for us to preach the word in our thoughts, words and deeds when it’s convenient.  But the moment it becomes a little embarrassing, or when we’re in a situation in which we don’t want to stir up trouble, or if we think that others might think less of us, well it’s far too easy to let our witness slip away.  It’s easy to be fervent believers at Mass, but miss the opportunity to do the Lord’s work the rest of the day.  That’s simply human nature, and it affects all of us.

But maybe the example of the Widow is what we need to follow.  Her witness didn’t have to be all about making a big scene or calling attention to herself.  Indeed the only one who even noticed, probably, was Jesus, the One who sees everything.  But that doesn’t mean that her witness didn’t cost her anything.  Indeed, it probably cost her almost everything she had in the world.  But nothing would stop her from witnessing.

And so we must ask ourselves today and every day: when we “go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” what will that witness look like?  Will we be able to say with St. Paul at the end of the day, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith?”  If we can, we too can await that crown of righteousness.  Please God, let us all be able to be crowned with it one day.