Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle



On that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’
And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’
My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’
The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything  appointed for you to do.’

In the moment of revelation, despite his astonishment and perplexity, Saint Paul managed to ask two questions, “Who are you, Sir?” and “What shall I do, Sir?”
Scripture scholars, theologians and hagiographers can debate whether Saul of Tarsus was a good man doing the wrong thing or a vicious ideologue bent on doing evil but, in either case, his training stood him in good stead when something got a hold of him. He knew enough to address the brilliant light and commanding voice as “Sir!”

But who was speaking to him? He was paralyzed until the Voice of tender mercy responded, “I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.”
Apparently, in that moment, Paul realized the meaning of the name, Jesus. The name chosen by God and revealed to both Mary and Joseph means, Savior, "for he shall save his people from their sins."
Lots of people then and now have that name but there is only one Jesus and the over-zealous Pharisee met him on the road to Damascus.
Then he asked the second important question, What shall I do, Sir?”
Selfie on an overcast day in murky water
Why is it so difficult to cultivate that sense of humility? Rene Girard, in his book on Shakespeare, The Theater of Envy, points out that, at least since the time of the Bard, people think: 
  • “If I want it, I should have it;" 
  • “If they want it, it must be right for them;” and even, 
  • "It's not fair that I cannot have what I want!" 
That presumption causes a great deal of suffering, and it wouldn’t be that difficult to suppose the exact opposite, “If I want it, it’s probably not right.” Everybody knows our desires and druthers are as changeable as the weather, and yet we’ll fight like badgers for what we want at this particular moment, convinced of its rightness.

Saint Paul asked precisely the right question, “What shall I do, Sir?” Many centuries later, Saint Francis would ask the same question, "What do you want me to do?"
Interestingly, both were given instructions as to what to do right now, and then assured, "You will be told what to do." 
Both needed a lot more time and preparation before they were ready to begin an entirely new way of life. At those early moments it was enough to hear God say, "What you think you want has been entirely wrong! Chew on that for a while -- and I'll get back to you."

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.