08 September 2008

On Paul's Conversion

During his Wednesday catechesis last week the Holy Father, as promised the week prior, focused on the conversion of Saint Paul on the road to Damascus. On that road, "a complete turnabout took place there, a total change of perspective."

We learn of this important event in the life of the Church from two main sources, he said: the writings of the Evangelist Luke and the writings of Saint Paul himself.

We learn from the three accounts given by the Evangelist. Considering these passages, Pope Benedict said,

The average reader, perhaps, might be tempted to pause too long on certain details, such as the light from the sky, the fall to the ground, the voice that called, the new state of blindness, the curing when something like scales fall from his eyes and the fasting. However, all these details point to the heart of the event: The Risen Christ appeared as a splendid light and addressed Saul, transforming his thinking and his very life. The splendor of the Risen One left him blind; presenting also externally what the interior reality was, his blindness in regard to the truth, to the light, which is Christ. And then, his definitive "yes" to Christ in baptism reopens his eyes, and makes him truly see.
I confess to being an "average reader" of this event.

Recalling that the ancient Christians called the Sacrament of Baptism "illumination," the Pontiff noted the sacramental reality of this event in the life of Saint Paul. Baptism "gives light, makes one truly see. All that is indicated theologically was realized in Paul also physically," he said.

At the same time that the Lord gave to Saint Paul the mission to preach to the Gentiles, the Apostle "learned that despite the immdiateness of his relationship with the Risen One, he must enter the communion of the Church, be baptized, and live in harmony with the other apostles."

Concluding his reflections by connecting Saint Paul's conversion to the lives of every disciple, Pope Benedict reminded us, as he did in his encyclical Deus caritas est (1), "Christianity is not a new philosophy or new morality. We are Christians only if we encounter Christ."

We know that many people today want to encounter the Risen Christ in the same way that Saint Paul encountered him. They want to experience his physical, tangible presence discernible to the physical senses. Though many desire to experience Christ in this manner, I suspect that very few are actually prepared for what such an encounter might entail. Remember, everything about Saul's life changed? Are we really ready to commit ourselves to such a change? We should be.

This is perhaps a most understandable desire but it does not mean that we cannot encounter him each day of our lives.

Where, then, do we go to encounter Christ today. Ever the ready teacher, Pope Benedict XVI wisely taught, "we can also encounter Christ in the reading of sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ's heart and feel him touch ours."

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