Fr. DeBruycker commented at Mass today that today's reading from Acts, the conversion of Saul, is one of the two most often-used readings in the church year, the other being the Annunciation. It was not a surprise, he thought, since both deal with people receiving a call directly from God, and answering that call with a decisive "Yes!"
The story of Saul's conversion is probably one of the most thrilling passages in the Bible. Here we have this thug, a persecutor of Christians, participator in the stoning of Stephen, who suddenly and without apparent explanation is knocked off his horse and blinded. His fellow travelers stand amazed and fearful; they see the light and hear the voice, but have no idea what is going on. I'm not sure Saul did, either. All he knew was that the Lord Jesus appeared to him and said "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do," and that was enough for Saul. From that point on, even unto death, he becomes one of the most fervent of the apostles (the only one who carries the title "Apostle" who didn't actually work with Jesus during His earthly life), author of most of the New Testament.
Some contemporary biblical scholars have come to doubt the conversion story, since Paul himself doesn't recount it in his epistles. Luke just made it up, created it, to prove a point, they say (that is, if Luke himself even wrote it). They are, of course, viewing this through modern eyes; what was important to Paul was not how the miracle happened, but what he was going to do with that miracle once it had happened. His epistles are about teaching, not an autobiography of his life. Fr. DeBruycker suggested we read Paul not just as part of Sacred Scripture, though it very much is, but also as letters that tell the inner conversion of a man who has given his entire life over to Christ. We learn about him not by what he says about himself, but by what his actions tell us.
I'm always excited by this part of Acts, starting with the first mention of Saul at the stoning of Stephen. Having heard it so many times prepares you for what comes next, and the anticipation is like that of a magnificent dessert waiting for you at the end of a meal. As moved as I am by Saul's helplessness in the face of Jesus, I'm also stirred by His very comforting words when he appears to Ananias, who dares to question God's wisdom in using this man: "Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mineto carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name." In other words, I know what I'm doing - leave it to Me.
This should come as a great comfort to us all, because it speaks volumes about God's ability to use us. No matter how incredible it might seem, He sees value in each and every one of us, and is prepared to use us in His holy plans. None of us are beyond that, none are too far gone - as long as we are willing to cooperate with Him. One of the great obstacles to full and complete reconciliation with God is the despair that comes from thinking that our sins are too great, that we are miserable wretches beyond help. In truth, as the angel says to Mary (nice linkage, huh?), with God nothing is impossible. Need we go any further than the example of the murderous sinner Saul who becomes Paul, the apostle to the gentiles? I take great encouragement every time I hear this, for it means there's still hope for me. It's also a reminder that this is an interactive relationship; while we often contemplate the role that God plays in our lives, we should remember that we also play roles in His plans; His life, so to speak. We share in His life, His suffering, and His redemption. And it is when we share our lives with Him that we'll come to appreciate just how much He shares His life with us.