THE CHALLENGING ROAD TO DAMASCUS
THE THIRD THURSDAY WITHIN EASTERTIDE
The church is not a bureaucratic organization, but a love story”, Pope Francis said recently in the Chapel of the Casa Santa Marta inside the Vatican.“We, the women and men of the church, we are in the middle of a love story: each of us is a link in this chain of love. And if we do not understand this, we have understood nothing of what the Church is.” …
“The temptation is to focus on the growth of the church without taking the path of love: But the Church does not grow by human strength. Some Christians have gone wrong for historical reasons, they have taken the wrong path, they have raised armies, they have waged wars of religion: that is another story, that is not the story of love. Yet we learn, with our mistakes, how the story of love goes. But how does it increase? Jesus said simply: like the mustard seed, it grows like yeast in the flour, without noise.”
A dramatic love-story began on the Road to Damascus, when Christ confronted the passionate Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, and overwhelmed Saul's vehement persecution of those who were Jesus' followers. Saul, blinded temporarily by the encounter, was about to become a vital link in the chain of love between Christ and His Church.
The Year of St Paul (called-for by Pope Benedict in 2008) challenged the faithful to reflect on all aspects of the life and work of this Pharisee, who became one of the most influential writers in the early church.
St Paul’s conversion was a long journey in faith, rather than a singular event on the road to Damascus.
Something dramatic happened. We belittle his struggle with conversion if we assume that it all happened in that blinding flash which threw him to the ground! St Paul has to make his own journey, as do we all. The extent of the journey that he had to make seems all the more momentous when we read the description that he himself gives, in the Acts of the Apostles, of his early life: “I am a Jew,” Paul said “and was born at Tarsus in Cilicia. I was brought up here in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was taught the exact observance of the law of our ancestors.
In fact, I was as full of duty towards God as you are today. I even persecuted this Way to the death, and sent women as well as men to prison in chains as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify, since they even sent me with letters to their brothers in Damascus. When I set off it was with the intention of bringing prisoners back from there to Jerusalem for punishment.” (Acts 22: 3-5)
The “Damascus Road Experience” did not suddenly turn him into the “Apostle to the Gentiles”. It merely began a process of conversion which prepared St Paul for his mission.
The word “journey” suits the life and spirituality of St Paul in several ways. He made his own journey of conversion, which takes him from the rigidity of his life as a Pharisee, through his conversion, to the years of growing in faith, from which he undertook lengthy journeys for his missionary activity and his teaching. The final stage of his journey is best seen in the pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, where he is seen to hand on the wisdom of leadership that he has amassed during his lifetime.
St Paul also cultivates a sense of “journey” in the development of the spirituality and conduct of the communities with whom he has written contact. His letters are full of thanksgiving, for all that they have achieved, assessment about the progress that they are making, and encouragement for the next stage of their transition into communities fully-centred on Christ.
A Lifelong Journey: In spite of, and because of what happened to him on the Damascus Road, St Paul reminds us that conversion is not an instant act of will, but a lifelong journey made up of small steps towards God.
O God who travels with us, give us courage and perseverance to see our journey through; may we take inspiration from the apostles who went before us; and grant us the grace to encourage others alongside us. Amen
Go now, wherever that journey may take you, not to serve yourself, but to serve others; Put your hand in his, the God of past, present and future, and walk with him wherever he may lead you. Amen
God of the road to Damascus, shatter our complacency, disturb our certainties and open our hearts to new possibilities and new truths, that the scales of our prejudices, dogmas and mistakes may fall away and, like Saul, we may become the people you truly made us to be. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Christ who lived and died and rose again. Amen.
We ask Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to pray with us to her Son
for those making the difficult journey navigating their way through this pandemic,
and for our own journeying through the next few days.
THE REGINA COELI -
Joy to thee, O Queen of Heaven. Alleluia!
He whom thou wast meet to bear, alleluia!
As he promised, hath arisen,
Pour for us to him thy prayer,
Rejoice and be glad,O Virgin Mary, alleluia!
For the Lord is risen indeed,
O God, who through the resurrection
of Thy Son our Lord Jesus Christ didst vouchsafe to give joy to the world: grant, we beseech thee, that through His Mother, the Virgin Mary, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life.
Through Christ our Lord.