25 January, Tuesday — You chose who??

25 Jan – Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

St. Paul (3-65) was a Jewish Talmudic student and a Pharisee. He was a tent-maker by trade. Saul the Jew hated and persecuted Christians as heretical, even assisting at the stoning of St. Stephen the Martyr. On his way to Damascus to arrest another group of them, he was knocked to the ground, struck blind by a heavenly light, and given the message that in persecuting Christians, he was persecuting Christ. The experience had a profound spiritual effect on him, causing his conversion to Christianity. He was baptised, changed his name to Paul to reflect his new persona, and began travelling and preaching. He died a martyr for his faith.

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Acts 22:3-16
Mk 16:15-18

‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’

Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Paul’s conversion. Before his conversion, Saul of Tarsus was Jewish, a Pharisee and a man of the world. A well-educated man of authority, in control, powerful and in charge. He was probably very good at sucking up to those in power and authority – the high priest, chief priests, the council of elders etc. He would do anything within his power to ‘get the job done’ to perhaps further his own interest and he’d let nothing get in his way. He was on his way to becoming a rabbi. Yet, this man, presumably religious and upright, was a narcissist craving attention and admiration, with a lack of empathy for others — classic narcissistic personality disorder symptoms. He had a hardened heart to the message of Christ and was hostile towards any of Christ’s followers to the extent of putting them to death.

Had you met Saul then, would you accept the newly-minted Paul as Christ’s chosen one? Would you think that Christ had gone out of His mind, picking the enemy as His instrument to bring His message to pagans? I know I certainly would have been up in arms and might have chosen to leave the community.

Even today, I struggle to understand the rationale why God or leaders of the Church choose some individuals to be heads of Church organizations or communities. Recently, a religious community I was part of went through a leadership change – the 5th one in 10 years. While I am no longer part of that community, I wonder what the screening or discernment process had been to bring about the changes. The past few years haven’t been easy for the ministry members, going through several changes. With each new leadership change comes new people, new styles of management and personalities. The pandemic since 2020 has not made it easy for everyone too. The difficulties experienced are the same as those in the secular world; fraught with uncertainty and some trepidation.

However, this time round, there was a clear sense of anticipation and excitement as the new leadership came on board. Everyone was looking forward to the opening of the centre again! Months later, I hear my ex-fellow ministry members lament at how the events planned and expectations of its members are unrealistic and unfeasible. I emphasize with them. The people called to leadership have lost touch with the situation today and have not kept up with the times. The previous regime was ‘deficient’ and we didn’t think it could get any worse. However, it appears that with the new leadership and the expectations, things are not getting any better — just a different kind of ‘worse’. While it doesn’t affect me in any way, I wonder why God has led the community down this path with so many changes, each time things seem to become far worse than before. Like Ananias asked “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.’

However, today’s reading reminds me that God sees not as man sees. “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” Who would have thought that Paul would be the great apostle that he turned out to be?  

The then Saul encountered Jesus in a deeply profound and powerful way that forever changed his heart and his life. Jesus healed Saul both physically (he was temporarily blinded) and spiritually. He went on to become one of the most influential apostles spreading the Good News and Gospel of Salvation. Paul built churches and communities, wrote several letters and dedicated his life and devotion to the Church.

So brothers and sisters, I remind myself today that I am not fit to question and judge what God’s plans are. It may seem hard to believe and accept, but He knows better than we do. Whatever is happening in our lives today that seem absolutely ludicrous, may not be at all ludicrous for God. Just remember Paul’s conversion and also ponder upon our own conversion. Christian conversion is not a one-time thing. It’s a continual encounter with the Lord as He seeks to shape us more and more like Him, in His image. Let us faithfully and patiently await what God reveals to us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, today as we celebrate the conversion of St. Paul, let us ponder on our own conversion. Help us surrender ourselves to you daily, to die to ourselves so that You might truly live within us. Help us to convert daily from a life of a minimalist Christian, to one that is deeply and passionately in love with You.

Thanksgiving: Jesus, thank you for giving us the gift of St. Paul. He is truly a reminder for us each day that Your ways and thoughts are above our human understanding. Thank you, Lord, for sending us such a wonderful messenger, bringing us the Good News of Salvation and spreading the Gospel all over the world. Help us, Lord, to be good disciples and to be messengers of Your Word as St. Paul was.

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