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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On a totally different note, though still St.-Paul-related, I was struck in the letter to the Romans not by Paul's sense of superiority (he certainly had been humbled) but by his passion. I feel that this man WAS the perfect candidate for fanaticism. He had studied, absorbed, and totally immersed himself in the culture of the Pharisees - he seems elitist, for sure, but never too cool to be a fanatic. I can't imagine anyone with anything other than fanatic status going out in search of Christians to arrest and kill.

But my mild disagreement with the last post ends with that slight variation. Paul is probably the most outstanding model of conversion that we'll ever see.

What hits me the hardest is Paul's insistence that God judges the HEART. It doesn't matter what you DO if your intention isn't right. I'm not so sure that the old saying "The road to hell is paved with good intentions" is entirely correct. It seems to me more so that the disposition of our hearts is what counts - and if our hearts truly desire to do what God wants of us, then our actions will follow. Paul wrote in Romans "Do you suppose, then, you who judge those who engage in such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?Or do you hold his priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God would lead you to repentance?" We must get our hearts right first, if we want everything else in life to line up right.

It's that realization of the utter goodness of God - that's what would make us weak at the knees at the thought of doing anything but what He wants. How many of us go out of our way in all kinds of ways, big and small, to make those we love happy? The very thought of being the reason for a friend's sadness makes me want to throw up right here and now. But all too often we forget that our relationship with God works the same way. He's not right in front of us, so we don't think to be a friend to Him or to show Him love. We can't call Him from our cell phones, so we forget to give Him our time in our busy lives. He doesn't "need" anything, so we don't GIVE Him anything.

That's just wrong.

And if we don't love God, and I do mean LOVE God like we love anyone in our lives, we can't really love those others in our lives. C.S. Lewis wrote "In my love for a wife or friend the only eternal element is the transforming presence of Love Himself" and "By loving Him more than them we shall love them more than we do now."

What's the point of conversion, of living, if not to continue to try to make ourselves better? Our love of God, our love of others, our love of the Church, our love of virtue, of heaven, of Mary?

Zeal. That's what St. Paul has that we should envy. Passion, zeal, love, fire, courage. It's all the same, really. It all stems from knowledge of Who and What God is, and from loving Him for it.

And again, in the words of C.S. Lewis, "Take it as one [wo]man's reverie...If anything in it is useful to you, use it; if anything is not, never give it a second thought."

(I pretty much quote The Four Loves like it's my job. You should probably just read it if you haven't and save me the trouble.)

Year of St. Paul

 This is the year of St. Paul, as many of us know. I was brainstorming a little about St. Paul's conversion and how that may be of service to us today, especially in reaching out to one another and preaching the Gospel. 
Consider this- Paul is a persecutor of what he does not know or understand. What seems strange, foreign and perhaps too "childish" or "silly" is what must be erased. Paul is educated and superior and is not in need of something fanatical.

Once Paul encounters Christ himself, he becomes like a child. First, his sight is taken away. This is a point which is also a help to us who never see Christ but only hear him. 
He is so incapacitated that he must follow along and be ordered and lead by the hand. He is essentially made to be humble. 

Once Paul is given back, in a sense, his powers (at least of sight) he faces a choice- God has made himself known, and Paul has realized his own human frailty- but what will it mean for his life?

Paul chooses obedience, just as Our Lady and as Christ himself. He goes to the Apostles, the same who know him as a killer, and seeks forgiveness and acceptance. 
This is so contrary to what our culture teaches humanity! 
We are expected to never be zealous enough to attack something we don't like in the first place- leave that to our leaders.
Next, if we are zealous, it is mocked because the "truth" is that we are being childish, and not adult. This one point behooves me to disparage it because I cannot understand when it was decided by the whole of mankind that it is "childish" to care, and "adult" to not!
Does that not reek of sloth, failure, ruin, selfishness and worst of all, fear?! It smells pretty bad to me. Allow me momentarily to run from Paul on this one point, because the great C.S. Lewis had something to say about this and it really was the beginning of this thought for me. 
He writes in an epilogue in his collected works of "The Chronicles of Narnia" this:
"The modern view seems to me to involve a false conception of growth. They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things?" Here Lewis refers to enjoying the reading of children's literature, but I believe his point is applicable here. 
To continue with St. Paul, he gains all by losing everything, so to speak, and that is the true conversion process. He is humbled, and chooses obedience. He is empowered, but continues to live humbly under the command and hand of the Lord. 
We lead others in the conversion process in the most simple ways. One point I would make is that recently I witnessed a number of students at school dealing with the common "inconveniences" and pains of living in new situations with new people, etc... What was so shining in the midst of this vision was their acceptance. Please note I do not mean their complacence. Very much the opposite. It takes a strong determination, a fierce will and above all great love, to accept God's vision for yourself even when it may not be the ideal one you have contrived. 
There you see the steps of conversion in action- following Paul's footsteps we are ousted out of our preferred dorm beds, left behind when our "friends" go out, and left wondering what on earth God was thinking when he gave us a blank page and said, "write." 
Yet, we accept! We, lowered like the children we are, rejoice within our spirits as we realize the freedom brought to our souls when we submit and obey.
Paul did not envision himself writing one third of the New Testament... but the Lord did, and because he made the choice he began upon the path to converting himself into the image of Christ.
St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22: "To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some."
Here is the epitome of the conversion we are called to- that in imitation of Christ we would be able to say we to have become all for the sake of all.