The Conversion of Saint Paul 25th January
Saint Paul’s entire life can be explained in terms of one experience—his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, who was only a few years older. But he had acquired a zealot’s hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: “…entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” (Acts 8:3b). Now he himself was “entered,” possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal—being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Saviour.
One sentence determined his theology: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5b). Jesus was mysteriously identified with people—the loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfilment of all he had been blindly pursuing.
From then on, his only work was to “present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Colossians 1:28b-29). “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5a).
Paul’s life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ’s victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new.
So Paul’s great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more “works” than the Law could ever contemplate.
Feast of the Holy Family
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. The Holy Family, of course, refers to Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
The cult of the Holy Family became popular in the Roman Catholic Church in the 17th century. In year A, the first two readings for the feast, from Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) and Colossians, recall the fourth commandment: Honour your father and your mother. They suggest that we need a model of an ideal family relationship based on a perfect relationship with God, and where else do we find such a model but in the Holy Family? Mary and Joseph provided the family context in which Jesus was able to grow ‘in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favour’.
Many people in today’s world can relate to the trials and anxieties experienced by the Holy Family. An emperor’s edict compelled Mary and Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem; a king’s cruelty forced the family to flee into Egypt; fear of Herod’s successor made them move from Judaea and settle in Galilee, as we hear in Matthew’s gospel today.
Yet, through all this, they placed themselves in God’s hands and followed where God called them to go. They retained that spirit of thankfulness which is expressed in Mary’s Magnificat and extolled by Paul in the second reading.
Both the placing of the Feast of the Holy Family in the octave of Christmas and the prayers for the feast firmly situate the mystery of the Holy Family in the context of the incarnation.
It is not by fleeing reality that we find God and are saved. God is to be found in the vagaries of human existence; in the ups and down, the joys and sorrows, of family life.
The feast of the Holy Family emphasises the humanity of Jesus Christ: ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us’ (Jn 1: 14). In Jesus we see a God who stands in solidarity with us all.
© Liturgy Lines. Elizabeth Harrington. Liturgy Brisbane.