Sunday, January 25, 2009

Homily for the Conversion of Saint Paul - 01-25-09

Acts 9:1-22 - 1 Cor 7:29-31 - Mk 16:15-18
by Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen

Year of Saint Paul 2008-2009

Acts 9:1-22

1 Cor 7:29-31

Mk 16:15-18


Two thousand years ago, Saul of Tarsus was born, he who would become
Saint Paul, the Apostle to the Nations. On this occasion, Pope
Benedict XVI decreed a Year of Saint Paul, from June 28, 2008 to June
29, 2009. Similarly, the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship
permitted us to celebrate today - Sunday, January 25, 2009 - the
feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul instead of the ordinary Sunday

Saul is a Jew of the sect of the Pharisees (cf. Acts 23:6). It was as
a Pharisee that Saul was present at the martyrdom of Saint Stephen:
"The witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man
named Saul." (Acts 7:58; cf. Acts 8:1). It was as a Pharisee that
Paul spent his young adulthood persecuting the first Christians:
"Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of
the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the
synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way,
men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." (Acts 9:1-2;
cf. Acts 22:4)

Saul is on the road to Damascus, in Syria. It is the year 37 of our
era, or about seven years after the Resurrection of the Lord. When
he left Jerusalem, Saul did not suspect that the road he was taking
was not an ordinary one: it was a road on which he would meet the
Saviour of men, Jesus, He who said: "I am the Way" (Jn 14:6).
Indeed, suddenly, a great light surprises Saul and he falls from his
horse: "Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a
light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and
heard a voice...." (Acts 9:3-4)

What happened? Though he was corporeally blinded by a great flash of
light, a light whose extraordinary power manifested the Omnipotence
of God, who "is Light" (1 Jn 1:5), Saul was inundated spiritually, in
his soul, in his mind, with a special grace from God that called him
henceforth to no longer persecute the Church, but rather to serve her
by preaching the Gospel. The grace of God, which is almighty, struck
the soul of Saul at the very moment he was thinking of threats and
murder (cf. Jn 14:26) against Christians: this divine grace that came
from the Holy Spirit, which acts in the memory of believers (cf. Jn
14:26), transformed Saul's sick reflections into regret and true
contrition for all his misdeeds against the Christians.

As Saint Paul himself suggests in his epistle to the Galatians, after
his conversion on the road to Damascus, after the healing of his
blindness, and above all after his baptism, Saul did not immediately
begin to proclaim the Gospel, but first went out into the desert, for
about three years: "But when he who had set me apart before I was
born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his
Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did
not confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to
those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and
again I returned to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to
Jerusalem to visit Cephas (Simon Peter) ...." (Gal 1:15-18)

So the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus, as important as it
is, was but the beginning of a long period - three years - of
reflection and prayer, nourished by the reading of the Holy
Scriptures, which proclaimed the long-awaited Christ whose coming had
finally been realized. Saul's journey had gone so far that he could
finally declare to all: "For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no
ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do
not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a
reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.
What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make
the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the
gospel." (1 Cor 9:16-18)

May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and of the Church,
help us to proclaim her Son's Gospel, following in the footsteps of
Saint Paul!

Canon Dr. Daniel Meynen


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