St. Paul’s “Paschal” Conversion, Ours and Others’, Conversion of St. Paul, January 25, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul
January 25, 2017
Acts 9:1-22, Ps 117, Mt 16:15-18

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today on this feast of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus — one of the most important events in the history of the world because of the impact this one man had, post-conversion, in spreading the Gospel all over the known world at the time and whose writings have deeply influenced all of Christian theology — it is important to understand what led to his conversion, what his conversion truly was, and what it means for our conversion.
  • First, St. Paul’s conversion seems to be, at least partially, the miraculous result of St. Stephen’s prayers. When the first Christian martyr was being stoned to death outside the Jerusalem Gate that now bears his name, the stone-throwing assassins were all laying their cloaks at the feet of Saul, showing that he was presiding over the execution. St. Stephen prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” as he was asking Jesus to receive his spirit, echoing Jesus’ own words from the Cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” These prayers were heard. God didn’t hold this sin against Saul. And Jesus Christ met him on the road to Damascus to give him through that forgiveness the gift of conversion
  • That brings us to what his conversion was. Many Christians believe St. Paul’s conversion is like most conversions we know of, from an immoral to a moral life. But that wasn’t Saul’s conversion at all. His was from a false notion of a holy life to a true notion. He was a zealous follower of God. He had come down from Turkey to Jerusalem to study at the feet of the greatest rabbi of the age, Gamaliel. As a young man, he had such zeal to keep the community of Israel together that he made it his mission to try to stomp out the heretical sect that was dividing Judaism and blasphemously claiming that a carpenter from Nazareth not only was the Messiah, but the Son of God and would destroy the holy Temple. That’s why he was hunting Christians down. In the persecution of the Church, he was the furthest thing, for example, from Herod, who hunted down the baby Jesus in order to preserve his own privileges. Paul’s conversion was, rather, from a false notion that we are saved by our external adhesion to all the prescriptions of the Mosaic Law, to the true one that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. We are saved by Christ’s work, not our own. The culmination of the saving life of faith he wrote about in his letter to the Galatians when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me” (Gal 2:20). The true notion of holiness is to die to ourselves so that the Risen Christ truly can live within us, reign within us, sanctify and save us and make us his instruments to co-redeem the world. Holiness is union with God. Since we are saved by grace, and grace is not a thing but a participation as a creature in the life of the Creator, Christian conversion must be continual, because it’s based on a continued encounter with the Lord, as he seeks in us to form us more and more in his image with our free fiat. In St. Paul’s life we see that conversion was not a one-time thing but a continuous reality as he continued to grow in the Gospel that he was fearlessly and faithfully proclaiming.
  • St. Paul’s conversion brings us to consider our own. Many of us at daily Mass, thanks be to God, don’t have to convert from a wicked life of sin, debauchery, malevolence and sadism. But many of us, like our Christian brothers and sisters do need to convert from a defective notion of the Christian life. Many Christians are minimalists, coming to Mass “when we can,” praying when we’ve accomplished everything else that was really “important” to do and still have the energy, and keeping the commandments “as best we can” without being “fanatical” about never breaking them. Similarly, many of us are legalists, thinking that if we “pray, pay and obey,” that’s all the Lord asks. If we fast two days a year, don’t eat meat on the Fridays of Lent, avoid mortal sins, then we’re setting ourselves up for the eternal hall of faith. We can live a Christianity without a Cross, seeking the good life of pleasure, money, power and control, without minimally sacrificing ourselves or things for God and others. Others of us are gnostics, thinking that as long as we “know” the truth, then we don’t really have to live it. Others are “promethean semi-Pelagians,” to use Pope Francis’ terms, that, similar to St. Paul in his Pharisaical days, think that all that really matters is our own action. Others think they can live the faith all on their own, without the other members of the Christian community, without a real familial love of neighbor. Others think that all God wants of us is personal piety, without our imitating St. Paul in trying to spread the Gospel to all we know.
  • We can multiply the examples, but many are not living by faith in the Son of God, they’re not crucifying themselves to the world and the world to themselves, they’re not seeking to become perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect, they’re not even making an effort to receive God’s grace truly to embody the beatitudes. Many Christians need to be converted from a defective notion of the spiritual life, of God’s will and hopes for us, to a  true one.
  • Today is a day in which we pray for the conversion of so many who persecute Christ without even knowing it, those who are caught up in sins for which he was crucified, those who are persecuting his body and making martyrs across the globe. It’s a day for us to pray for our own conversion from any shallow or deficient understanding of the holy life to which God is calling us. It’s a day in which we pray for the grace, like St. Paul, to be so converted that we will say, “Woe to me” if I do not share this gift!
  • The great strength of Paul came from his encounter with Jesus Christ not merely on the road to Damascus but every time he, with the early Church, “took bread,  and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”  The same Lord who met him at the city gates of that Syrian capital comes here to meet us this morning!

For a more extended treatment of St. Paul’s Conversion, parts of which influence the homily given today, I append relevant notes from a retreat conference I preached to the priests of the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma on January 25, 2016: 

  • St. Paul’s Conversion and our own
    • Today we celebrate one of the most important events in the history of the Church and, because of the Church’s role in the salvation of the human race, one of the most important events in the history of the world: St. Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. His conversion is the most famous conversion of all time, but at the same time, it’s one that even though most Christians have an accurate of. Most think it a 180 degree turn from a life of persecuting Christians to one of preaching Christianity, of a total shift from a bad man to a good man, from a murderer to a minister, but that’s not really what it was.
    • If we’re going to grasp the conversion that the Lord Jesus is asking of us in our lives, and asking us to help bring about in the lives of those we serve, love and know, then we need first to grasp what his conversion was. And we’ll let St. Paul lead us to that understanding in the hope that we may experience that for us 61st Street and Yale Avenue will be the road to Damasus.
    • Pre-history
      • To understand St. Paul’s conversion, it would be helpful briefly to review his life prior to his Jesus Christ on the outskirts of Damascus..
      • Probably after his bar-mitzvah at the age of 12-13, Saul, which was his Jewish name, traveled to Jerusalem to study at the feet of the great Rabbi Gamaliel. He became a Pharisee excelling beyond all others. He loved the law. He was zealous for the Legislator.
      • When a new Jewish sect sprung up that was relativizing the importance of the law — from dietary restrictions, to the importance of circumcision, to not observing the Sabbath, to preaching a crucified criminal as having risen from the dead, to announcing that God wasn’t unitary, but there was a God the Son and God the Spirit — he saw in it a great danger. He thought this sect was drawing many people into blasphemy.
      • With the fire of youth, he went to try to extirpate it. He got permission to rip Christians from their homes and bring them before the Sanhedrin.
        • He himself said in Jerusalem before the tribune: Acts 22: “I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brethren, and I journeyed to Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.”
        • Before Agrippa in Caesarea, he said: Acts 26: “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem; I not only shut up many of the saints in prison, by authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme; and in raging fury against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.”
      • We come to the famous scene of the stoning of St. Stephen, who was accused of speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God, against the temple and the law. He gave a lengthy defense before the Sanhedrin, showing how all the Old Testament prophecies converged in Jesus, a style that must have engraved itself on the mind of Saul because in his initial preaching to the Jews later, he would emulate the style and even much of the content. Stephen’s point was that their hearts were hardened to God’s message so they repeatedly killed God’s messenger.
      • After Stephen said that he saw the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God, they shouted, covered their ears and rushed upon him. They cast him out of the city and stoned him, laying their garments at Saul’s feet, a symbol that he was presiding over the execution. While they were doing so, St. Stephen prayed first to the Lord to receive his spirit and then, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Both prayers were heard.
      • Just like Jesus whose first and last words from the Cross were, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” and “Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit,” so Stephen was praying for his persecutors, doing good to those who were persecuting him, loving his enemies, because they and Saul did not know what they were doing. Saul, in stoning Stephen, was essentially stoning Christ.
      • That prayer must have remained within Saul much as Jesus’ first word from the Cross had pierced the heart of the good thief and the centurion. Normally the last thing dying men do is pray for their executioners. Stephen’s prayer was the beginning of Saul’s conversion, a point we’ll cover a great tomorrow, but we can simply now how important it is for us really to pray for the conversion even of those who seem least likely. No one is beyond the reach of God’s mercy. We should never give up on anyone. And if they convert, like St. Paul, they can end up doing great good.
    • Conversion scene on the Road to Damascus and its applications.
      • As Saul was continuing his persecutions, he eventually got a commission to go to Damascus to take those who belonged to the new sect back to the Sanhedrin. As he was nearing his goal, the episode happened which changed his life totally. We know the story so well. St. Paul tells us about it three different times in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9:1-19; Acts 22:6-21; Acts 26:4-23) , but we can flesh out some of the elements:
        • The place
          • There are no coincidences in God. He could have come to meet Saul anywhere. So why outside the gates of Damascus?
          • It seems clear that the Lord waited to get him far away from Jerusalem, 135 miles, something that would have taken him a good week to traverse. He wanted him away from what he knew, from his comfort zone.
          • He also wanted him to be close to where he could nourish him through his Church. The Christian community was strong there, which was the reason St. Paul was going there in the first place.
          • We, too, sometimes need to get away from our habits, our customs, our haunts, our schedules, for the Lord to encounter us. In doing so, we need to be open to the Lord’s using others to bring us to where he wants us.
        • The light
          • “As he journeyed he approached Damascus and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. He fell to the ground.”
          • Acts 22:6 “As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. 7 And I fell to the ground.
          • Acts 26:12 “Thus I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground.”
          • Light is an obvious sign of God’s presence. The light had come into the world to illumine Paul and make him capable of illuminating others.
        • The question
          • “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
            • Acts 26:14: I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
            • “I am Jesus [of Nazareth] whom you are persecuting.”
          • Jesus identified with his Church. The Church is his body. Whenever one attacked a member of his body, they attacked him. “I was hungry and you gave me no food…” This is something so many need to remember when they attack the Church, whether from inside or outside the Church. It’s done to the Lord.
          • Only he heard the voice. The others saw the light but couldn’t interpret it.
        • Instructions and blindness
          • Paul understood the action as a thing to be done. He was a man whose faith led to action.
          • Acts 9: “What shall I do, Lord?” And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.
          • Acts 26:16 “But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles — to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
          • These are all expressions of God’s mercy for Jews and Gentiles both:
            • Open their eyes
            • Turn from darkness to light
            • Turn from the power of Satan to God
            • Receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.
          • Saul was told to get up and enter the city and he would be told what he was to do. Like with the man born blind in the Gospel, Jesus wanted him to receive the gift of faith. This was the first act of Paul’s faith. To do what he was told. He needed to be led by the hand. His pride was crushed in that moment. His friends were assisting him. He was walking by faith, not by sight.
        • We’re told for three days Paul fasted, he neither ate nor drank.
          • It was a mini-Lent
          • He was doing penance.
          • He was cleaning himself out of the “old leaven” of the Pharisees.
          • He was developing a hunger for a new food.
          • He was praying.
        • Lord’s instructions to Ananias
          • The Lord appeared to him in a vision, “Ananias.” “Here I am, Lord.”
          • Acts 22:12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, 13 came to me
          • Gives specific instructions, Saul is praying. He had fore-announced that a man named Ananias would come to lay hands on him to regain sight.
          • Ananias was afraid because of Paul’s reputation. The Lord replied, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.
          • The Lord had chosen him to preach the Gospel both by his words and by his sufferings.
        • When Ananias entered the house, he called him, “Brother, Saul.”
          • This shows the great power of Christianity to turn enemies not only into friends but brothers.
        • Purpose of his visit was so that Saul might regain his physical sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
          • Acts 22:12 “And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’ And in that very hour I received my sight and saw him
          • Acts 22:14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’
            • Our sins are forgiven by calling on God’s name. As Pope Francis says, God’s second name is mercy.
        • Scales fell from his eyes
          • He hadn’t realized he had had scales his entire life.
        • He rose, was baptized, and began to eat and grow strong.
        • Importance of baptism.
          • Through it, we too, have been a chosen vessel to carry the Lord’s name to the nations and to suffer on account of his name.
          • The Lord has sent us priests to minister to us in this way.
          • Again, the Lord could have healed Paul in any number of ways, but he wanted to do so through the laying on of hands and through baptism.
      • Then he stayed among the disciples for several days.
      • Then he started to go to the synagogues to show the Jews, using all of his knowledge, that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. People were amazed at his conversion, the one who has persecuted the Church was now promoting it, preaching that Jesus was Messiah and Lord. The Jews then plotted to kill him.
      • We see in this something of the Lord’s wisdom.
  • As a young man, after living a life that he had then regretted, St. Paul made a commitment to give the rest of his life to the Lord. He made up for lost time. He had encountered the Risen Lord, experienced the call by him, and didn’t go in by halves. He was all in. And the Lord was able to do so much good through him.
  • His past sins motivated him to preach God’s mercy and to make up for lost time.
    • What St. Paul’s conversion was and wasn’t
      • After this review, we can turn to what the real nature of St. Paul’s conversion was. Most, as I mentioned above, think about the conversion of St. Paul as a change from a wicked life to a good one, from a life in which he was murdering Christians to a life in which he was making Christians. But it’s more complicated than that.
      • Pope Benedict said in a 2006 catechesis that it was principally a change from a false notion of what a holy life was to a true one, from one in which we pleased God and were saved by works of the mosaic law, to one in which we were saved through grace, through our relationship with Christ, through God’s mercy rather than our fidelity to the works of the law. Listen to Pope Benedict:
        • Paul states with absolute clarity that this condition of life does not depend on our possible good works but on the pure grace of God: “[We] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3: 24). With these words St Paul expressed the fundamental content of his conversion, the new direction his life took as a result of his encounter with the Risen Christ.
        • Before his conversion, Paul had not been a man distant from God and from his Law. On the contrary, he had been observant, with an observance faithful to the point of fanaticism. In the light of the encounter with Christ, however, he understood that with this he had sought to build up himself and his own justice, and that with all this justice he had lived for himself.
        • He realized that a new approach in his life was absolutely essential. And we find this new approach expressed in his words: “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2: 20).
        • Paul, therefore, no longer lives for himself, for his own justice. He lives for Christ and with Christ: in giving of himself, he is no longer seeking and building himself up. This is the new justice, the new orientation given to us by the Lord, given to us by faith.
      • These thoughts bring us to ask ourselves if we, too, have a false notion of a holy life
        • Many Catholics think that a holy life is one that avoids merely the worst of mortal sins. Convinced by false modern ideas of eschatology that think that all or most of us go to heaven no matter what we do — in other words, most of us become saints no matter what we do — they go about with a shallow prayer life and a shallow moral life. They don’t really sense the need to pray, to love God with all their mind, heart, soul and strength, but just need not to do evil.
        • Many others think that it’s just obeying the rules, keeping the commandments.
          • But the Christian life is about love, not rules, about our heart, not about only our external actions, about the tree more than just the fruit
        • Others have a notion of the Christian life without the Cross
          • St. Paul, however, knows that there is no way to follow Christ without picking up our Cross each day and following him
          • He discovered in the Cross his “glory” and the means to a holy union with Christ, through its power to crucify the world to him and him to the world. He would eventually say, “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but he who lives in me.”
          • Many need to have this same conversion, from an aversion to the Cross to an adversion and finally conversion, turning with Christ on the Cross.
        • Many think that all God wants of them is to be a “good person,” however one defines it.
        • But God calls us to more.
          • He told us in the Sermon on the Mount that our righteousness needed to surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees, who fasted 3x a week, prayed 3x a day, went up to the temple 3 times a year, paid 10 percent of their income. He said that it needed to surpass that of the virtuous pagans who loved those who loved them and did good to those who did good to them. He called us, rather, to love even our enemies and to become perfected as our Father is perfect.
        • Even among those who recognize that the Lord is calling them not merely to be “good” but to be holy as he is holy, many have a false notion of holiness. St. Paul did, one that was based on keeping the works of the law, even while he was arresting and killing innocent Christians. There are other false notions of holiness today:
          • When many think about becoming saints, they, like Paul, consider first their own works, their own fidelity to God, their own acts of love. These are all part of the pursuit of holiness, but a secondary part, a reaction, a response. The main means to holiness is given to us, especially in the sacraments, in which God seeks to make us holy.
          • As the theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar described in the introduction to his work on St. Therese and Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, we cannot make ourselves holy; it is God who makes us holy and the main means he uses is the graces he gives us in the sacraments and in prayer.
          • St. John said in his letter, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he has loved us and handed over his Son as an expiation for our sins.”
          • We could paraphrase this by saying, “In this is holiness, not principally what we have done for God but in what he has done for us.”
          • St. Therese’s image of an elevator instead of a staircase.
        • All of these ideas lead us to mercy. We become holy through God’s grace, through God’s forgiving us and giving us himself, allowing the Holy Spirit to become the rule and guide within us leading us to love, helping us to unite ourselves to Christ’s mercy on the Cross and continually turn with him, to allow God to love us in such a way that we’re changed in our core.
        • All of this points to the truth that St. Paul’s conversion was, in essence, not a conversion to a set of ideas, but to a person. His conversion was a death to his old way of a life and a rebirth to the new based on his encounter with the Lord Jesus.
          • Pope Benedict wrote: Thus St Paul was not transformed by a thought but by an event, by the irresistible presence of the Risen One whom subsequently he would never be able to doubt, so powerful had been the evidence of the event, of this encounter. It radically changed Paul’s life in a fundamental way; in this sense one can and must speak of a conversion.
          • As can be seen, in all these passages Paul never once interprets this moment as an event of conversion. Why? There are many hypotheses, but for me the reason is very clear. This turning point in his life, this transformation of his whole being was not the fruit of a psychological process, of a maturation or intellectual and moral development. (as conversion always is).
          • Rather it came from the outside: it was not the fruit of his thought but of his encounter with Jesus Christ. In this sense it was not simply a conversion, a development of his “ego”, but rather a death and a resurrection for Paul himself. One existence died and another, new one was born with the Risen Christ. There is no other way in which to explain this renewal of Paul. None of the psychological analyses can clarify or solve the problem. This event alone, this powerful encounter with Christ, is the key to understanding what had happened: death and resurrection, renewal on the part of the One who had shown himself and had spoken to him.
          • In this deeper sense we can and we must speak of conversion. This encounter is a real renewal that changed all his parameters. Now he could say that what had been essential and fundamental for him earlier had become “refuse” for him; it was no longer “gain” but loss, because henceforth the only thing that counted for him was life in Christ.
          • Our conversion, too, requires this death and resurrection, death to an old way of life and conversion to a new way. That’s what the experience of God’s mercy does, it brings us into Christ’s paschal mystery, not in a superficial way, but in the whole of our being, leading us to live by that merciful love of God.
          • Ratzinger, Dec 2000:
            • The Greek word for converting [metanoete] means: to rethink – to question one’s own and common way of living; to allow God to enter into the criteria of one’s life; to not merely judge according to the current opinions. Thereby, to convert means: not to live a all the others live, not do what all do, not feel justified in dubious, ambiguous, evil actions just because others do the same; begin to see one’s life through the eyes of God; thereby looking for the good, even if uncomfortable; not aiming at the judgment of the majority, of men, but on the justice of God – in other words: to look for a new style of life, a new life. All of this does not imply moralism; reducing Christianity to morality loses sight of the essence of Christ’s message: the gift of a new friendship, the gift of communion with Jesus and thereby with God.”
            • Then he talks about the life we’re called to live: “At the beginning of His public life Jesus says: I have come to evangelize the poor (Lk 4:18); this means: I have the response to your fundamental question; I will show you the path of life, the path towards happiness – rather: I am that path.” He responds to the deepest poverty, which is the “tediousness of a life considered absurd and contradictory,” a life without joy that produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, avarice, and other destructive responses to the lack of meaning. “This is why we are in need of a new evangelization: if the art of living remains and unknown, nothing else works.”
          • We need to follow Christ on this path but this following has a special characteristic:
            • Ratzinger 2000: The Sequela of Christ – Christ offers Himself as the path of my life. Sequela of Christ does not mean: imitating the man Jesus. This type of attempt would necessarily fail – it would be an anachronism. The Sequela of Christ has a much higher goal: to be assimilated into Christ, that is to attain union with God. … The only path is communion with Christ, achieved in sacramental life. The Sequela of Christ is not a question of morality, but a “mysteric” theme – an ensemble of divine action and our response.
            • This is the conversion we’re talking about. A new life so that we like Paul can say, “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.” The one who would say, “For me, to live is Christ.”
          • His conversion was a fruit of his encounter with Jesus Christ, a true death and resurrection.
            • B16 Nov 2006: In fact, he will explicitly define himself as “apostle by vocation” (cf. Rom 1: 1; I Cor 1: 1) or “apostle by the will of God” (II Cor 1: 1; Eph 1: 1; Col 1: 1), as if to emphasize that his conversion was not the result of a development of thought or reflection, but the fruit of divine intervention, an unforeseeable, divine grace.
            • Henceforth, all that had constituted for him a value paradoxically became, according to his words, a loss and refuse (cf. Phil 3: 7-10). And from that moment all his energy was placed at the exclusive service of Jesus Christ and his Gospel. His existence would become that of an Apostle who wants to “become all things to all men” (I Cor 9: 22) without reserve.
            • From here we draw a very important lesson: what counts is to place Jesus Christ at the centre of our lives, so that our identity is marked essentially by the encounter, by communion with Christ and with his Word. In his light every other value is recovered and purified from possible dross.
          • To encounter Christ, we should stress again, we have to die to ourselves.
            • This Christian identity is composed of precisely two elements: this restraint from seeking oneself by oneself but instead receiving oneself from Christ and giving oneself with Christ, thereby participating personally in the life of Christ himself to the point of identifying with him and sharing both his death and his life. This is what Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans: “[A]ll of us… were baptized into his death… we were buried therefore with him… we have been united with him…. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6: 3, 4, 5, 11).
            • B 16: One existence died and another, new one was born with the Risen Christ. There is no other way in which to explain this renewal of Paul. In this deeper sense we can and we must speak of conversion
          • St. Paul’s conversion was to take the focus off of himself and to put it on Jesus Christ, off of his works and onto Christ’s mercy
            • Likewise, the conversion we are called to make is to make Christ the center of our whole life.
            • For Paul, Christ was “the pearl of great price” that made everything else in his life pale in comparison. He would say, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8; cf. Mt 13:46).
            • Paul’s great anxiety was for Christians to follow him and make everything else distant second in comparison with the person of Christ. “Imitate me as I imitate Christ,” he said to the Cointhians. His prayer for us on this great feast day would doubtless be what he expressed several times to the early Christians: “My little children, I am in labor pains until Christ be formed in you” (Gal 4:19; cf. 1 Cor :4:14-15; 1 Thess 2:7-8). And Christ, as Pope Francis wrote in Misericordiae Vultus, based on Jesus’ words to St. Faustina and other mystics, is Mercy Incarnate.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
ACTS 9:1-22

Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that,
if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way,
he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus,
a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
He said, “Who are you, sir?”
The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless,
for they heard the voice but could see no one.
Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.
There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias,
and the Lord said to him in a vision, AAnanias.”
He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight.”
But Ananias replied,
“Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man,
what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests
to imprison all who call upon your name.”
But the Lord said to him,
“Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine
to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,
and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
“Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.
He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus,
and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,
that he is the Son of God.
All who heard him were astounded and said,
“Is not this the man who in Jerusalem
ravaged those who call upon this name,
and came here expressly to take them back in chains
to the chief priests?”
But Saul grew all the stronger
and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus,
proving that this is the Christ.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 117:1BC, 2

R. (Mark 16:15) Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.

Praise the LORD, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.

Gospel MK 16:15-18

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”