Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Every year on January 25th, the Church commemorates the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. This is a particularly important day for us Paulists, and we generally treat it as our primary feast day of the year. We see ourselves as successors of St. Paul, bringing the Gospel to those outside the Church, and using the best contemporary tools of communication to do that.

This year, however, my thoughts are more focused on the idea of conversion than St. Paul per se. In todays reading from the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 9), Saul of Tarsus goes from persecutor to preacher. Sent to reign in the follower of the “new way,” and take them back to Jerusalem as his prisoners, he instead finds himself blinded and helpless, and thrown in with the very people he was going to imprison.

As Fr. Charlie Donahue, CSP, pointed out this past weekend, the conversion in this story is also the conversion of Ananias, the Christian sent by God to meet Saul and bring him into the faith through healing and baptism. Ananias even has the temerity to argue with the Lord over the suitability of Saul, and the danger he poses to the Christian community.

Can’t we please just stay enemies?

Life is so much easier and clear-cut when we have an enemy. During the years of the Cold War, we could look to the Soviet Union and China, and understand our place in the world. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the rise of China as a trading partner (or, if you prefer, their rise as the ones who make all our Stuff and hold our debt), we’ve found new enemies: terrorists. Perhaps because “terrorists” is a little too nebulous to really help us understand who the enemy is, some would like an easier target, like Islam.

Perhaps we’re still in need of a little conversion. Is it possible that God is still challenging us to put aside our fears and prejudices, and begin the work of healing?

Tonight President Obama will present his State of the Union message. Already politicians and pundits are squaring off, choosing sides, and ratcheting up the rhetoric of division that will play on our fears and our desire to have an enemy. It seems nearly impossible to have a political discussion– let alone a policy discussion– without ad hominem attacks and demonization of those with whom we disagree. There is very little productive discussion of the common good, compromise, and problem-solving. Instead we’ll likely hear tonight plenty of blaming, and plenty of fear-mongering.

Ananias and Saul both had to change (experience conversion) to enable the spread of the Gospel. This required divine intervention, with Jesus himself appearing to them (separately) to command them to meet and work together. What will be required today, for us to function as a civil society working together for the common good of all?

Will I have to give up an enemy? Will you?

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