"Big Four" Highlights


 

5 Steps to Conversion

A guide to drawing closer to God

By Brian Caulfield, FFG Editor

Conversion is a mysterious thing that we are asked to contemplate at least once a year on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (Jan. 25), often called “Saul-Paul Day” in reference to his change of name.

The account in the Acts of the Apostles (9:1-19) is a fascinating study in psychology in its root meaning – study of the soul – given to us by St. Luke, the physician. We read that Saul, a Pharisee, was so set against the Jews who followed the new Way of Jesus that he asked the high priest for permission to travel to Damascus and bring back in chains the Christians who were speaking in the synagogues there. Why this personal mission? Certainly, as a faithful Jew, he was motivated by faith. But perhaps something more was at work. Luke writes that Saul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord” (9:1). Perhaps Saul found something persuasive in the Christian message and was fearful that he would become a believer; thus, his violent reaction.

On the way to Damascus, the light of Jesus strikes Saul and he hears a voice, saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul calls out, “Who are you, sir?” Jesus identifies himself, saying that he is one with the Christians. For Saul there is a crisis, a time of judgment. He must decide which path to follow, his own way or the Way of the Lord. He is struck blind, an indication not of God’s retribution for Saul’s persecution against Christians, but of God’s loving way to make manifest Saul’s spiritual darkness and to take him on an interior journey.

Blind Saul is led into Damascus, but the eyes of his soul begin to open. He fasts, neither eating nor drinking for three days, the time Jesus was in the tomb. On the third day, Ananias is sent by God to lay hands on Saul “that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit” (9:17). Scales fall from Saul’s eyes, he is baptized and eats to regain his strength. He stays with the disciples and begins to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Messiah.

We can learn much for our own lives from this tale of conversion. Consider a few points:

1. Saul’s conversion begins with a hint of grace from hearing the preaching of the disciples, yet he violently resists their words. Although we may not set out to arrest those who speak of Christ today, do we yet seek to chain the Word of God in our lives? Do we ignore parts of the Gospel that make us uncomfortable or seem to demand too much? Do we keep all the Commandments, not just the ones that are easy to follow?

2. When Saul is struck by Christ’s light, he is humbled and responds obediently. Where is this light in our lives? Are we alert to God’s signs? Do we listen for his word that may come in something we read, someone we meet, or something we hear from the readings and preaching on Sunday? Are we humble enough to call out, “Who are you, Lord? What do you want from me?”

3. Saul let others lead him physically while God led him spiritually. An illness, an injury, even a terminal diagnosis can be paths to God, ways of spiritual healing and growth. Do we accept these physical setbacks prayerfully, knowing that God has a plan?

4. Saul fasted. Here is the key to conversion in our lives today. We must fast. In our modern, convenience culture, it is so easy to take food for granted, and use food as a reward or for solace. What would happen if we did not eat for a day, or two? Catholics have largely abandoned fasting, except for the relics of discipline imposed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. If we want to get closer to God, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow the Way of the Lord.

5. Saul was baptized. It wasn’t enough for him to believe in his heart and mind, or to have hands laid upon him and receive his sight. He had to be baptized to become born again in the Lord. How do we view Baptism? Is it just a ritual, an initiation into a holy club? We need to recapture the urgent need for Baptism and advise parents to have their children baptized soon after birth.

Today is the day of conversion for each of us, in whatever way the Lord is calling us to change. A good place to start is to get to the sacrament of Confession.