Today, the most Holy Roman Catholic Church celebrates the great feast of the conversion of St Paul. For Catholics and Christians, this is a day of great hope as it shows us that nothing, absolutely nothing is impossible with God. Paul went from being Saul, one of the greatest persecutors of the Church to Paul, one of the greatest evangelists of the Catholic Church. Under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, not only did he become a believer in the faith, but he converted many thousands and also wrote most of the books in the New Testament.
Paul himself in today’s reading testifies, “I even persecuted this Way to the death and sent women as well as men to prison in chains as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify. I even received letters from them to the brothers in Damascus, which I took with me when I set off to bring prisoners back from there to Jerusalem for punishment.” He did all these things because he had not yet encountered the Living God. But one day, while he was on his way to do what he was accustomed to doing, persecuting Christians, he encountered his destiny; he encountered the Living God in Jesus Christ His Risen Son.
At that encounter, the conversation between Paul and the Lord is very important for us Catholics and those who have questions about the Catholic Church being traced back to the first apostles. As the bright light shone around Saul, he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He answered, "Who are you, Lord?" and the Lord answered, "I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting." This means that when Christians are being persecuted, Jesus himself if persecuted. This is why the Lord said to Saul, “Why are you persecuting me?” Me and the group - the Church - that Jesus left are one in the same. It is that same Church that Jesus promised in Matthew 28: 20, "And know that I am with you always; yes to the end of time." That Church is the Holy Catholic Church. Paul understood this really well, so much so that he wrote about it a few times including in 1 Corinthians 12. On other occasions, he spoke of the Church as being one body with Christ as the head.
When you read the Acts of the Apostles, you cannot help but notice the great zeal with which Paul – then called Saul – used to persecute the Church. As you continue reading the account of the Acts, you will notice that after his conversion, Paul served God with just as much zeal as – if not more – before his conversion. He transferred all the gifts he had into the ministry that God had called him to. When God calls us into conversion to serve him, he calls the total person. We in turn must serve him with all that we are for His honour and glory. The best example of this I can think of because I am an musician is if I were a worldly musician playing in all the musical events that do not glorify God, then when God calls me into the service of his name, I should seek to use all my musical skills to glorify him.
Paul’s conversion is one of the greatest conversions of all time, as he went about, filled with the zeal of the Holy Spirit, and preached the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean. When Paul encountered the Lord, he saw the great need to evangelize. There are many who claim to have come to know the Lord, but their obligation as Catholic, as Christian, starts and ends with going to Mass once per week; and more often than not, they are time watchers – anxious to be the first our the Church gate when Mass is over. God has called all of us to so much more than that. He has called us all to live lives of generous service to the Body of Christ. St Paul is an excellent example of this. There are so many in our world, in our communities, in our parishes who are in need, that there can never be enough persons serving.
In the Gospel for today, taken from Mark 16: 15-18, Jesus says to the apostles, “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover. “ This is the mission that every baptised Catholic is called to – to go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel. Now I know what some of you are thinking. You’re thinking, “I can’t do that! I’m no preacher!” Right?! Well you may be right on that, but the greatest proclamation we can ever make in service of our God is not done with our lips, but rather with our lives. All of us are called to proclaim the good news by the way we live, the way we relate to those around us; not just those who are nice to us and easy top get along with, but those who are difficult to deal with as well.
The songwriter wrote:
To love the Lord our God is the heartbeat of our mission
The spring from which our service overflows
Across the street, all around the world
The mission's still the same
Proclaim and live the Truth in Jesus' name
Let us establish the Kingdom of God in our world by living the mission we are all called to.
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