Friday, January 25, 2008

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle
The Orbit of Conversion

Readings: Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22; Psalm 117:1bc, 2; Mark 16:15-18

One of our theology professors used to tell us that when speaking about the Holy Trinity the prepositions are all important. For example, we often speak of going to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. As we celebrate this feast of the Conversion of St. Paul today, our readings lead me to wonder whether we might not say the same thing about the process of conversion. Those familiar with biblical Greek (which I’m not) will no doubt recall that metanoia – meaning repentance – refers to a reorientation, a change of mind. To repent is to change the direction of one’s life. It is to turn over a new leaf. There we have our first preposition. But how does this happen? And what happens after that? Are there other prepositions to consider?

Indeed there are, if Paul’s conversion story is anything to go by. Saul, as he was then called, had a very good, even compelling, reason for turning around. Something dramatic happened to him. He was first struck down and then raised up again. That was the turning point for him, the point at which his life changed. Can at least some of us not resonate with this experience? Even if we may not all experience the same dramatic encounter with the Risen Christ, might we not remember a time when Christ became real for us, a time when our life changed, if only gradually? But that’s not all. The process was to continue for Saul. And we can trace it by again considering the prepositions.

After being raised up, we’re told that he was led by the hand by his companions and entered Damascus. And in Damascus, he met Ananias. In other words, after being struck down and then raised up Saul was led into the Christian community, where he regained new sight and was told about everything appointed for him to do. Isn’t this also an essential direction in the process of repentance? One is initiated into the Body of Christ and then begins fulfilling one’s responsibilities within it.

Even so, to be a Christian is not only about being inside. More so is it about being sent out. Isn’t this the meaning of the word apostle? And what do we find the Risen Christ doing in today’s gospel if not sending the Eleven out into the whole world?

There is yet one more preposition to consider. It’s perhaps not a very obvious one. But it’s probably the most essential one of all. For here we find the foundation, the center of gravity, of all that has gone before. We get a hint of what this is when we consider the fact that, in the Acts of Apostles alone, the story of Paul’s conversion is recounted no less than three times. No doubt this is because it is such a singularly important event in the history of the church. But what about for Saul/ Paul? Isn't this also the singularly most important event in his life too? Hereafter, wherever his journeys might take him, whatever activities he might be engaged in, he will have but a single focus. After this fateful day on the road to Damascus, Christ becomes for Paul the Sun around which the planet of his life orbits. In all his comings and goings, Paul will now strive to live no longer for himself but for the One who died and was raised to life for him (see 2 Corinthians 5:15).

And what of us? What is our experience of conversion? What prepositions feature most prominently? Around what or whom do our lives orbit?


  1. WoW - Fr Chris. Have not visited your site for quite a while and it's totally breathtaking.
    Music, the very sharp pictures and of course your inimitable reflection with probing questions.
    As the popular song goes - "miss you much". The tune on your site "Be Still and Know" from Psalm 46:10 converted me. Just Be.

  2. I wish to add another angle to Fr Chris' reflections on the conversion of St Paul, and that is from the perspective of Ananias. More than about prepositions, it is about a downright preposterous command from God Himself.

    Imagine yourself as Ananias, a God-fearing individual. You have heard about Saul and the terrible things that he has done (and are still doing) to the infant Church. And then out of the blue you are told to minister to him. Imagine your utter dis-belief: did I hear right; if I did, what is God's plan for him, for all of us? It must have taken an immense leap of faith for Ananias to abandon all reason and caution to respond to God' call.

    My faith has not been tested to this extent. I pray that when I am, supernatural grace will come to my rescue.