AFTER DAMASCUS (Mark 16:15-18): 25 January 2009 (Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul)
Dear St. Paul,
Today we remember your conversion–that dramatic, life-changing event in your life on the road to Damascus. The account says that you were on your way to arrest Christians when you found yourself suddenly surrounded by a great light. Falling to the ground, you heard the voice of the Lord–and the rest was history. From a zealous Pharisee out to arrest every possible Christian, you turned into an even more zealous missionary determined to make a Christian of every possible person.
Some of us also meet the Lord in typical Damascus fashion: dramatic and unexpected. Many others do so the Galilee way, like most of your first disciples: gradual, gentle, almost ordinary. But whatever kind of conversion we go through, eventually we realize that it is but the first step. It is only the beginning. There is more in store. Conversion is like deciding to take the plunge–and getting wet. After we hit the water, we still need to learn how to stay afloat, to swim towards shore, or to ride the tide.
I was reading Cardinal Martini’s book on you, called THE TESTIMONY OF PAUL. It’s strange that what moved me most deeply weren’t your wonderful exploits as Christianity’s greatest missionary. What touched me was the ten years after Damascus, when pursued by your Jewish enemies and misunderstood by the apostles in Jerusalem, you went on exile in Tarsus. For ten years, you were alone, marginalized by both the Jews and the Christians.
It’s inconceivable that such a thing would happen after your dramatic conversion. I actually had the impression that all those missionary accomplishments immediately followed that incident in Damascus. But it turns out that you had to wait it out for ten years before you actually began to do some work. And of course, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing too when you began your work. It had its usual trials and persecutions…
It all makes me wonder about this business of conversion. It turns out that the road FROM Damascus is even bumpier than the road to Damascus. I guess conversion really isn’t a one-shot deal, after all. Rather, it requires a daily decision and involves a daily purification. Simply put, it’s hard work. Now I realize why at the end of your life, you wrote in your letter to Timothy, “I have fought a good fight. I have run the race to the finish. I have kept the faith.
Help me, St. Paul, to finish the work that the Lord began in me in my conversion.
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(image: Saint Paul by El Greco)