Jan. 25, 2017: The Conversion of St. Paul
To be converted means, also for each one of us, to believe that Jesus "has given himself for me", dying on the Cross (cf. Galatians 2: 20) and, risen, lives with me and in me. Entrusting myself to the power of his forgiveness, letting myself be taken by his hand, I can come out of the quicksands of pride and sin, of deceit and sadness, of selfishness and of every false security, to know and live the richness of his love."
(Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from address given on January 25, 2009)
Before Saint Paul’s conversion he thought he was a very good man. He thought he did everything very, very well. He was full of zeal, convinced of the direction he was taking in life, and was very successful within the scope of the people who mattered to him.
He had no idea that he was very misguided. Then the Lord entered his life, shook him up, blinded him, threw him to the ground and left him confused and unnerved for three days.
Having encountered the Risen Lord he was transformed. He re-evaluated everything in his life and became the most impacting force in the Church other than Jesus Himself. Paul translated the experience of Jesus not only from Aramaic into Greek, but from an Asian mentality to a European mentality. He became the greatest missionary the Church as seen, establishing churches that survive even to this day, and he wrote two thirds of the New Testament.
Paul’s conversion not only changed him; it changed the world.
This brings us to this feast’s application to us. God is calling some people here present to undergo a major change in the way they are living their lives. All of us, in fact, are being invited by the Lord to undergo some kind of transformation, some form of conversion, some new way of believing and thinking. Wouldn’t you agree that all of us have some kind of obstacle to our following Christ more closely? And wouldn’t we all agree that the mother of all vices if pride? So as we celebrate Paul’s conversion let us take as look at the virtue that conquers pride: humility.
There are 3 different degrees of humility.
The 1st degree of humility is necessary for salvation. It’s having enough humility to stop justifying mortal sin in our lives. It’s the humility needed to recognize that I have this major obstacle in my life, some major sin, that keeps me at a distance from God. And it’s having enough humility to recognize that so far I have been unwilling to do what I need to do to remove this obstacle from my life. Without this 1st degree of humility I make the decision to live with my sin, even to justify it. The 1st degree of humility leads us to say to the Lord, “Not for all the riches in the world would I ever commit a mortal sin.”
The second degree of humility is a move towards holiness. In this state of relationship with the Lord, He, the Lord, has become so important to me that I don’t want to do the least little thing against the Lord. This is not scrupulosity but rather a desire to be one with Christ, to see Him in all things, to encounter him in all the people and events in our lives, a desire to rise above my mediocrity, and not settle for a half-hearted response to the call of Christ. And now we don’t want even venial sins to stand in our way, preventing a clear sight of the Lord who loves us so. This is the state of no longer wanting to disagree with, for instance, the teaching of the Church on the sanctity of life and settle for some compromise between good and evil. This second degree of humility leads us to say, “Not for all the money in the world would I ever want to commit even a venial sin.”
The third degree of humility is a move into true sanctity. In this degree of humility I see myself as part and parcel of all of sinful humanity and I see my call to be among those who are despised, rejected, ostracized, spat upon, and facing extreme oppression, because thus was treated my Lord and Savior. This is the degree of humility that hears the teaching of our Church as the voice of Jesus and embraces it, especially on such tough subjects as there being a need for a redistribution of wealth so there is a greater bond between the rich and the poor. A person who abides in this 3rd degree of humility not only understands, but lives, the Church teaching that says, “No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life.” (Populorum Progressio, 23)
Oh, how far away from this degree of humility we all are! But now we can see what is the trajectory of holiness the Lord is calling us to. Let us on this feast of Paul’s conversion let us ask the Lord to help us grow in holiness.
By Fr. Bill Breslin