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
When the Magi arrived in Bethlehem, what did they see? A refugee couple with their infant boy – hardly an impressive sight.
Which is more of a miracle: that the wise men found Jesus, Mary and Joseph, or that they were able to recognize this newborn as the fulfillment of their quest?
noun | epiph·a·ny | \i-ˈpi-fə-nē\
: an appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being
Excerpts from “epiphany” at Merriam-Webster.com
What was hidden is now revealed (although it is still hidden). How very much like ordinary conversations with friends, acquaintances, and family! Even when we attempt to be as open and sincere, our words and gestures conceal as much as they reveal.
God takes on flesh in Jesus Christ in order to reveal the Father’s love for all creation. He longs for our response. He wants to enter into conversation with each and every one of us – and all of us together. Epiphany continues as each baptized person bears witness by word and deed to the presence of God in their life.
Which is more of a miracle? That I recognize Jesus in the people around me, or that they recognize him in me?
Photo credit: Thomas Lefebvre
Hello I’m Sean.
@srseanm on WordPress, Twitter, and Instagram.
I’m a member of the North American province of the Daughters of St. Paul, a group of religious sisters who work with the media. On various social media sites my sisters and I use the hashtag #MediaNun. (So I’m a bit cheeky in swiping that phrase for my blog address.)
My mission-field right now is in the heart of the city – New York City to be exact. I’m the local superior of our convent here, and I work in our Pauline Book and Media book store in midtown. It’s an adventure!
Why this blog?
The Good News is just that—good news. God’s grand story of salvation makes a difference in life. In a sense, the experience of faith is a conversation we have with God and about God. And like all good conversations, it often takes place in the context of a meal. So here’s to good news, good food, and good conversation!