This week we celebrate the second Sunday of Lent. I have kept my abstinence, and am truly amazed by this wonderful accomplishment. This is what I consider a conversion, a great change to train the mind and spirit into submission.
We all have a pass; my direction in life led me in a path of wonderment. Desiring to become a radical feminist in the late 60’s and early 70’s has helped me in understanding what my real purpose in life is and how to redirect my passion. I was like the Apostle Paul. I left the Catholic Church for a season, and became a born-again Christian. I was hell-bent on converting all Catholics to come to the right side of God. All I knew was that I was on fire for God, I was hungry for more and more knowledge. In my quest to find answers, I decided to re-enroll in college. I wanted a Christian-based college, and my radio was always tuned in to a Christian station. Biola University was announcing a special BS (Bachelor of Science) to be completed in two years, providing you already had an AA. If I had been Catholic at the time, Biola would have never accepted my application; so in hindsight this was part of God’s plan for my growth. The classes I took opened my already curious mind to the Word of God. Classes like eschatology and hermeneutics were my favorite.
After his conversion Saul’s Hebrew name was changed to Paul. Saul was a highly educated Pharisee, taught by the best, Rabbi Gamaliel. Saul, hated all Christians, and what they represented. Saul wanted to put an end to all this Christian nonsense once and for all. He was prepared to kill, if necessary, to stop this fast-spreading Jesus movement. I wanted to convert anyone who crossed my path. I was like Saul, using God as a tool to bring others to the faith. My conversion was not as dramatic as Saul’s, but I definitely was going through a conversion. I was so naive and awkward in my deliverance, that at times I came across as a “Jesus Freak.” That did not bother me because my obstinance had not yet been revealed. It was a long, lonely road in which I alienated honest-to-goodness friends because they were not ready for all the Jesus rhetoric. My insistent Bible beating over their heads did not help either. I was too cool to hang out with any anyone who was not like me (more on that later). I created my own rapture, getting caught up in holiness, and I was not going to leave anyone behind. Saul and I rode on the same horse into Damascus. When Saul was knocked off his horse, he heard the voice of Jesus. When I was knocked off my horse, I knew that God had called me back into the Catholic Church.
Acts 9:3-5 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
3 On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Paul was born to Jewish parents. His father possessed a much sought after Roman citizenship, which by birth gave Paul the same privileges. He, like his father, was a Pharisee; he was intelligent beyond his years, understood the Old Testament and lived by its rules. Though he was born six years after Jesus, they never crossed paths. Paul was very aware of Jesus and was threatened by the beliefs that would contest his training. All his education, his background as a Pharisee, and his Roman citizenship all would play an important role for his ministry. Paul was a tentmaker by trade. With Roman soldiers having to serve for 20 years and traveling from Rome throughout all Asia Minor, tents had to be readily available. Paul could travel with a few necessary tools and use his trade to help him finance his missionary trips.
The Apostle Paul was beheaded in Rome. At the site of his martyrdom a church was built, St. Paul at the Three Fountains or San Paolo alle Tre Fontane (Italian). When Paul was decapitated, his head bounced three times; at place where his head landed springs of water appeared, hence, the name three fountains.
Philippians 3:4-6 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)
4 although I myself have grounds for confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he can be confident in flesh, all the more can I. 5 Circumcised on the eighth day, of the race of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrew parentage, in observance of the law a Pharisee,6 in zeal I persecuted the church, in righteousness based on the law I was blameless.
In everything that we experience, God is training us to do our ministry. While at Biola University, I learned to love the Word of God. I have such great appreciation and respect for my fellow Protestant Christian brothers and sisters that serve God in this capacity. But God called me back into the Catholic Church. At first I questioned the decision, but it did not take long to fall back in love with my Catholic roots. The Eucharist was what I longed for in the desert of my journey.
Of the 27 New Testament books 14 are attributed to Paul. Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon were all written while Paul was in prison in Rome. Through his four missionary trips, Paul spread the gospel changing the world and solidifying Jesus’ ministry.
Nancy was a true friend that I alienated because of my first conversion. As a baby Christian, I certainly messed up things between us. I should have been there for my sweet friend when she was going through her divorce, but because she was not a Christian I cut ties with her. I will always regret this behavior and pray that she has forgiven me. Like Paul, I was an arrogant follower of God, with a Pharisaical religious spirit. This behavior had nothing to do with my new found religion; it was mostly an attitude I developed on my own. Thanks to the Lord, a good dose of humility brought me back down from the high horse I was riding on. I look back on this episode of my life as part of training on how not to behave. I still exchange Christmas cards with Nancy and pray that one day she will understand how crude and foolish my actions were toward her, and forgive me.
Dear Jesus, help us all to convert. With the guidance of Your Holy Spirit, continue to teach and direct us into the ministry we are called to. I pray for all souls who have not come to the realization of their existence. Lord, work miracles in their lives and bring them into Your sheepfold. Lord there is a total peace in knowing You, put it in the hearts of the lost to desire this peace. Lord protect us all from the coronavirus, and heal those who are suffering from the effects of this illness. Amen