Thursday, January 26, 2017

Conversion of Paul

The feast day for the conversion of Paul was Jan 25. The day of prayer for Christian unity was Monday, I think. These things got me thinking. Paul was a believer before his conversion. In fact, he was a very zealous believer. He believed strongly but because he believed strongly when he believed wrongly he was impossible to convince. We all know people like that. It is very likely that in some areas we ARE a person like that. I mean we tend to live like all the mistakes are being made by others but logically we can work out that that is probably not the case.

In some ways this feast is hard. It highlights the problem but does not really offer a solution. Should we really wait until we see a blinding light and hear the audible voice of Jesus? We certainly hope and pray that that happens to others who are on the wrong road and many of us pray it happens to us to when we are on the wrong road. Yet the number of errors is far greater than the number of Road to Damascus experiences.

Many of the people who do claim to have had a moment of divine revelation contradict each other. We believe Paul but we don't believe Mohammad like Muslims do or Joseph Smith like Mormons do. So just chasing people who tell these kinds of stories does not seem right. Yet there is something about this story that is instructive.

We all need to have this encounter with Jesus. We all need to have our life interrupted and to be struck blind for 3 days and to receive a baptism that would have been so offensive to us before that encounter. Yet meeting Jesus does not look the same for everyone. For Paul, the person of Jesus was the most offensive thing. There was so much of the faith he was willing to accept but this one thing he could not accept. That Jesus was the Messiah.

Is that what we have trouble with? Most of us not. We are OK with warm fuzzy feelings towards Jesus. Even atheists generally try and say nice things about Him. We don't find Him offensive. So what is the part of the faith we find offensive? That is different for everybody. For some it is the sexual morality. For others it is just the notion of faith rather than proof. For some it is compassion for the poor. Sometimes it is connected with people from other Christian traditions.

The conversion of Paul has a special place in evangelical Christianity. That life-changing experience where the truth of Christianity becomes clear is the very centre of their spirituality. Growing up in a dutch reformed church it really was not so central. Some people had that experience and some did not. Yet the traditions that flowed from the Great Awakening movements in the US do put that very much at the centre. They try and manufacture such moments in people.

Heresy is like that. They take a Catholic truth that Catholics have forgotten about and they embrace it to the point of error. In this case it means they elevate it to the point where they make all the sacraments irrelevant and the struggle for holiness irrelevant and just focus on that one encounter. Yet we cannot lose sight of the fact that there is a truth there.

Helping people to see how sinful they are, how powerless they are without Jesus, to challenge them to embrace Jesus and make this moment a life-changing moment. that is a powerful thing. Modern Catholics tend not to go there. We should more. We talk about conversion as an ongoing thing and that is true. Yet conversion often requires big decisions. We can't be afraid to challenge people to make big decisions. Not asking them to think about it but asking them to decide right in the moment. Jesus did not ask Paul to think about anything. He told him, "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do."

Paul also said in Acts 26:19, "I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven." It is still important that people follow up that experience with a life of obedience and prayer and sacraments and all that. Still the experience remained important. Paul talks about it over and over. That is key. Many Catholics don't seem to have a way to talk about their faith. A central conversion event can give someone a story to tell, something to explain why they are Christian and why you should be too.

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