Thursday, April 14, 2016

"WHY ARE YOU PERSECUTING ME?"


Homily for April 15th, 2016. Acts of the Apostles 9:1-20.

          The story we heard in our first reading is one of the most dramatic conversion stories of all time – in the same class with the story of St. Augustine’s conversion three centuries later. The chief persecutor of Jesus’ disciples, until then a small sect within the Jewish community, becomes overnight the man called by God to carry the gospel message to the whole world.

In Augustine’s case, conversion started with a child’s voice from the other side of the garden wall, saying, “Take up and read.” When Augustine opened the biblical scroll he was holding, his eyes fell on Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” (13:13f). Those words kindled in Augustine a fire that never went out.

          In the case of Saul (he received the name Paul only when he was baptized), the voice said: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” We might have expected a different question: “Why are you persecuting my Church?” The question came in personal form because the Church is Christ’s body: he has today no voice to speak to people but ours, no hands to reach out in compassion but ours, and so forth.

          Note the reaction of the man God has chosen to baptize Saul, Ananias. He’s scared out of his wits. ‘I’ve heard about this man, Lord,’ he says. ‘He’s dangerous.’ ‘Go,’ God tells him. ‘He is my chosen instrument to carry my name to Jew and Gentile alike.’ Go to St. Paul’s Church just south of Columbus Circle in New York’s Manhattan. Over the altar you will see carved in stone three Latin words: Vas electionis est – “He is my elect or chosen vessel.”

          To those words the Lord adds these: “I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” What does this tell us? A personal encounter with the Lord God – like that experienced by Saul, Augustine, and countless others down through the ages – is never just for the individual. God comes personally to chosen souls to commission them to go to others, proclaiming: “I have seen the Lord!” And in every case, the fulfillment of this call means suffering.