I just love the way this feast day sneaks up on me – January 25, the Conversion of St. Paul.
It always seems to take me by surprise: A month after Christmas…early on into Ordinary Time…we’re encouraged to recall and celebrate an incredible event.
“Incredible,” not as in “flashing-lights-and-booming-sounds-sensory-overload-extravaganza” (although there is a fair amount of blockbuster-movie production value to the story).
Rather, “incredible as in “unbelievable”.
As in, “you gotta be kidding me.”
As in, “yeah, right…ain’t ever gonna happen.”
Paul, we’re told—a man who’s breathing “murderous threats” one minute—has his heart changed in an instant. He’s transformed.
Not only does his menacing demeanor diminish…but he actually joins the other side…and becomes its most zealous advocate and spokesperson.
The intervening millennia have robbed this story of a bit of its edge, I think. Seen through the safe distance of two thousand years, we can’t appreciate what must have been rumbling around in Ananais’ heart at the time. “Say again? You want me to go catechize this clown?” he says. “Yeah, right…”
But the holy man, I notice, does indeed set aside his fears. He agrees to share with Paul—his murderous antagonist—the Good News. And there’s a subtle spiritual lesson in that seemingly simple act. A lesson that was clarified for me just a day or two ago, when a good friend handed me a copy of August Turak’s charming little book, “Brother John.”
Turak passes on an insight he learned from a Cistercian monk: “…in our fear, we forget the miraculous.”
And when we forget, life itself is diminished. Our fears can corral what God desires to set loose in the world.
Far better, Turak says, that we work to…
“…put aside these doubts. We must resolve to act decisively, while trusting in the aid of something we don’t understand and can never predict. We must open ourselves up to the miraculous, to grace.”
A surprising encouragement, worthy of reflection, particularly on this day – when we pause to celebrate a most unlikely turn of events.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.