In a time of intense difficulty in the period following the foundation of the Pauline Family, Blessed James Alberione had what he later called a dream. It came in answer to his prayer and self examination in the face of setbacks. In this dream Alberione heard Jesus telling him: Do not be afraid. I am with you. From here I will cast light. Live with a penitent heart. When he described this prayer experience to his spiritual director, the latter told him: “Be serene. Dream or otherwise, what was said is holy. Make it a practical program of life and light for yourself and for all the members” (Abundantes, 154).
The words in various translations of the Latin original appear in all of the chapels of the Pauline Family. Since the words were “heard” in a dream, I often wonder if we do ourselves a disservice to think of them as distinct phrases separated by punctuation or line breaks. In the following guided examination of conscience I’ve taken the liberty to play with these elements.
Do not be afraid … of your failings, or the failings in the world around you.
+ Even if I cannot put it into words or understand it myself, can I bring my deep-down uneasiness before God?
Do not be afraid I am with you … you are not alone, I am with you. I AM. I am faithful.
+ Do I work out difficulties on my own, or with everyone else but God?
I am with you from here … Here in the Eucharist I am your nourishment & your source. Here in this community which I form around this altar—I am with you here.
+ Jesus is with me here—but where am I? Am I here, or am I stuck in the past, or living in the future?
From here I want to enlighten … I am your light and I want to use you to enlighten others.
+ Do my words and actions reveal Jesus or do I obscure his compassion, his truth?
I want to enlighten, live with a penitent heart … Let my example challenge you in your inmost heart. Always live in an ongoing conversion.
+ Am I honestly trying to live the way Jesus lives? Where do I fall short?
Live with a penitent heart, do not be afraid … do not be afraid to acknowledge sin and darkness – atone for it.
+ Do I bring the failures of the world before God in prayer?
+ Do I bring my own sins to the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly?
Photo credit: Sean Mayer
The Lord said to Ananias, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying. …Go for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.”
The Acts of the Apostles narrates the conversion of St. Paul three separate times (in chapters 9, 22, and 26), which means that it is more than just an interesting story. Saul’s conversion had a huge impact on the early church, and the writer of the Acts of the Apostles wanted everyone to hear this story several times so that the message would sink in. This conversion story still has a huge impact on us today. Among other things it tells us that reaching out beyond our comfort zone is what Christians are called to do. It highlights the primacy of God’s grace in our lives, and at the same it showcases the fact that grace works through the members of the community.
When Ananias worked up the nerve to follow God’s instructions to go to the house of Judas and ask for Saul of Tarsus, he reached out to someone who until a few hours before posed a real threat to Ananias and his fellow Christians. At the same time, this Jew born and raised in the Roman city of Tarsus, educated in Jerusalem, was a real catch for the Christian community. Because of his background and education, Saul was perfectly positioned to bridge the cultural divides present in the first century Mediterranean world. Without losing his Jewish identity, Saul became a Christian and took the name Paul. He answered the summons to preach Jesus Christ “before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.” But all of that would not have happened if Ananias had not been in an attentive conversation with the Lord in prayer. Each conversation with God in prayer, and each conversation we have with others about God, is an opportunity for grace to build bridges between us.
Saul’s conversion came about because God intervened powerfully in his life. But it was not a simple matter between Jesus and Paul. God’s grace involved Ananias and the other disciples in Damascus; and then it involved Timothy, Titus, Priscilla and Aquila, and countless others. God’s grace sparks a conversation that spans generations until it reaches us. It is a conversation that changes hearts and lives.
Photo: Baptism of St. Paul, Capella Palatina, Palermo Italy (cropped) © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro /
, via Wikimedia Commons
When I entered the convent in 1980, my religious community had the practice of reciting a chaplet immediately following the Benedicamos Domino wake up call. The designated postulant (we took turns by room) was supposed to spring out of bed, stand in the hallway, and lead a prayer which consisted of five decades of a call: “Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus—” to which we all responded: “—make us saints;” each decade was separated by the traditional “Glory be… .” The whole prayer wrapped up with a few more invocations for vocations, and by this point everyone in that dorm area was supposed to be ready to head down to chapel together. Practically speaking it was bedlam, with everyone vying with each other for time in the common bathroom area, and trying to master the art of rapid but perfect bed-making. In the chaos, the voice of the prayer leader would get muffled, and inevitably someone would respond “make us saints” at the same time that everyone else was saying “as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.”
Over time I grew to appreciate that ‘prayer’: make us saints—as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be. Christian community is like that. We make each other saints. We always have.
Of course it is more theologically accurate to say that community is a privileged place for us to actively participate in the faithful love of God which marks our life as holy.
Baptism brings each member of the church into a relationship with God as a member of God’s people. We enter, as it were, into a grand conversation with God, and with others about a God who reveals God’s self to us.
Conversation only comes about when someone dares to cross the open spaces that separate one person from another. The miracle of divine revelation is that God crosses infinite boundaries in order communicate with us. As each one of us and all of us together reciprocate this communication (and in so doing, live into the reality of our Baptism) the Word becomes en-fleshed in our choices, words and gestures, pauses, etc. It is the mystery of grace at work in and through our life.
photo credit: Greg Becker