Prayer and Meditation for Monday, January 25, 2016 — Conversion and Recovery — “You may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” — Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes.

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle
Lectionary: 519

 

Reading 1 ACTS 22:3-16

Paul addressed the people in these words:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia,
but brought up in this city.
At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law
and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today.
I persecuted this Way to death,
binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.
Even the high priest and the whole council of elders
can testify on my behalf.
For from them I even received letters to the brothers
and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem
in chains for punishment those there as well.“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’
And he said to me,
‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’
My companions saw the light
but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’
The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told about everything
appointed for you to do.’
Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light,
I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.“A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law,
and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
came to me and stood there and said,
‘Saul, my brother, regain your sight.’
And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.
Then he said,
‘The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before all
to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay?
Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away,
calling upon his name.’”

Or

Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that,
if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way,
he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus,
a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
He said, “Who are you, sir?”
The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless,
for they heard the voice but could see no one.
Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.

There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias,
and the Lord said to him in a vision, AAnanias.”
He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight.”
But Ananias replied,
“Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man,
what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests
to imprison all who call upon your name.”
But the Lord said to him,
“Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine
to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,
and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
“Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.

He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus,
and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,
that he is the Son of God.
All who heard him were astounded and said,
“Is not this the man who in Jerusalem
ravaged those who call upon this name,
and came here expressly to take them back in chains
to the chief priests?”
But Saul grew all the stronger
and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus,
proving that this is the Christ.

Responsorial Psalm PS 117:1BC, 2

R. (Mark 16:15) Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Praise the LORD, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
R. Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
or:
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Alleluia SEE JN 15:16

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I chose you from the world,
to go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 16:15-18

Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
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Commentary on Acts 22:3-16 or 9:1-22; Ps 116; Mark 16:15-18 From Living Space

As the First Reading opens, we see Saul going to the high priest getting letters authorising him to go to the synagogues in Damascus and, if he found any Christians, called here “followers of the Way”, there, he would bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. Then, as he approached the city, there was a brilliant flash of light and Saul fell to the ground. He heard a voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

.

Quite puzzled, he replied: “Who are you, sir?” The answer came: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This must have been news to him. To attack the followers of Jesus was to attach Jesus himself. “As often as you do it to even the least of my followers, you do it to me.” It is significant that when Saul got to his feet, he was blind. But it was not just a physical blindness; he had not been able to see Jesus as the Word of God.

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He would stay like this for three days and during that time neither ate nor drink. Then a Christian called Ananias was told to go and baptise Saul. Not surprisingly, Ananias was not keen on going to see a man who was going all out to get rid of Jesus’ followers. But he was reassured that this was what God wanted. “This man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles, kings and Israelites.” Ananias, presumably with some trepidation, then went to Saul and told him that the Lord had sent him so that Saul could regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. He laid hands on Saul’s head. Immediately scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. But what he could see was now very different from what he saw before his blindness. He was ready for baptism.

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The rest, as they say, his history. Almost immediately, Saul began to go to the synagogues of Damascus proclaiming that Jesus was the Son of God. It was an extraordinary transformation. Later, his name will be changed to Paul. From then on, he will launch on an extraordinary career of bringing the Gospel to both Jewish and Gentile communities in what is now Turkey, in Greece and ultimately in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. This is reflected in the words of the Gospel where Jesus, before his ascension, tells his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

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Each one of us has been baptised, most of us at a very early age. But becoming a Christian is not just a once for all event. The process of conversion to a deeper following of Christ is something that can and should continue right through our lives. It is also important to realise that, like Paul, every one of us is called not just to take care of our own spiritual wellbeing but that our following of Christ is something that calls on us to share that message with people around us, “to proclaim the Gospel to every creature”.

The Gospel reading is from the end of Mark’s gospel, from what is sometimes referred to as the “longer ending” to distinguish it from a “shorter” one. Both of these texts are thought not to be from the original version of Mark but were inserted to round off the ending of this gospel which ends rather abruptly with the women on Easter Sunday fleeing from the empty tomb “bewildered and trembling” and, because of their great fear, “they said nothing to anyone”.

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The longer ending carries on from that point with material that we find in the other narratives, such as references to Mary Magdalen and Jesus appearing to his disciples.

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Today’s reading includes instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples before leaving them for the last time. They are words which apply very much to Paul. They begin with the instructions to proclaim the Good News to the whole of creation. This is exactly what Paul was doing as he reached out to Gentile communities all the way from what is now modern Turkey, through Greece and Macedonia and on to Rome.

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“The one who believes and is baptised will be saved.” Paul was second to none in his belief in Christ. He would be able to say later on, “I live, no, it is not I, but Christ lives in me.” An expression of total union with his Lord.

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Jesus then indicates some of the signs that will accompany those who profess their faith. Again, Paul was capable of many of these – like escaping great dangers and bringing healing and wholeness into people’s lives.

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Conversion is not something that only happens once in a lifetime. It is something that can happen to us several times in the course of our life. Let us be ready to answer whenever the Lord calls us to something greater.

Related:

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Art: Conversion of St. Paul by Michelangelo

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What does David Pawson teach us about the Holy Spirit in his book “What the Bible says About The Holy Spirit”?

“The works that I do, you will do too.” Why? Because he did them as the Son of Man filled with the Holy Spirit. That means all of us can do way more than we ever thought possible once we drill into the power of the Holy Spirit…

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Who else in our “modern world” said “scales fell from my eyes”?

In November 1934, a man named Ebby Thacher visited Bill Wilson and sat with Bill in the kitchen of the Wilson’s Brooklyn apartment, and talked about the way this new spiritual answer to alcoholism had gotten him sober.  Bill W.’s fundamental conversion experience took place while he was talking with Ebby, as “the scales fell from his eyes” and he became willing for the first time to turn to the experience of the holy in prayer and meditation, and let its healing power begin to restore his soul.

The scales fell from the eyes….

Bill’s Story, p.12, Big Book

“Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)

Ebby Thacher with Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1955

Ebby Thacher (on the right) with Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1955

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The story of how Saul, the devout Jew and zealous persecutor of the church, became Paul, a passionate preacher of the faith, begins along the road going northward from Jerusalem to Damascus. As Saul approached Damascus with plans to arrest those who “belonged to the Way,” he had a vision that totally changed the direction of his life. Luke describes the conversion three times in Acts (Acts 9:1-19, Acts 22:3-16 and Acts 26:4-18), and Paul alludes to it in his letters to the churches in Galatia and Corinth (Galatians 1:16-21; 2 Corinthians 11:22-23).

Saul was one of many Jews who felt that the followers of Jesus posed a threat to the Jewish religion. Earlier he stood by approvingly at the stoning of Stephen, one of the seven church deacons, for alleged blasphemy. Later, “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples, he went to the Jewish high priest for permission to arrest any followers of “the Way” in the synagogues of Damascus, where the Gospel was attracting converts.

The 150-mile journey from Jerusalem to Damascus can now be completed in one day, thanks to excellent roads. When Saul set out from Jerusalem with his escort, he had the choice of two routes: One went east down through the canyon called Wadi Qelt to Jericho, then turned north through the Jordan River valley. It crossed the river at Scythopolis (modern-day  Beit Shean). This route would have taken Saul around the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee and up to the mountain roads linking the Decapolis with Damascus. In summer time it is hot and uncomfortable, lying far below sea-level until the area east of the Sea of Galilee is reached.

The more frequented route moved through the khaki-colored hills of Samaria (the northern part of the West Bank/Palestine today), across the Jezreel Valley, then skirted the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, passing very near Capernaum, the base for Jesus’ three-year ministry (irony!).

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Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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25 JANUARY 2016, Monday, 3rd Week in Ordinary Time
OUR SHARED EXPERIENCE AND MISSION WITH ALL CHRISTIANS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22; Ps 116:1-2; Mark 16:15-18Today is the last day of the Octave for the Week of Prayer for unity among Christians.  The conversion of St Paul is the basis for us as Catholics and Christians to work together for the common good of the Church and the extension of the Good News to all of humanity.  Indeed, in the work of the New Evangelization to counter the spread of secularism and its effects seen in relativism, materialism and individualism, it is necessary to work together as Christians for the conversion of humanity. Working against each other is not only counterproductive but it hinders the spread of the Good News.  Most of all, it goes against the last wish of Jesus that we be one so that others will know His Father.  Jesus prayed, “that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:21-23)

How, then, can we work together with all Christians for the spread of the gospel?  We need conversion as in the case of St Paul.  The more radical the conversion, the greater the change of heart and the transformation!  We must remember that life changes, depending on one’s experiences and encounter with God.  How else can we explain St Paul’s radical conversion from being a zealous Rabbi persecuting the Christians to that of a passionate missionary and apostle for Christ, if not the fact that he had a very deep encounter with the Lord at Damascus?   From this incident, we can conclude that Christians are in different traditions simply because of their Christ-encounter.   If they found Christ in a Catholic Tradition, they will most likely stay within the Catholic Tradition.   Conversely, if their experience of Christ in the Catholic Tradition is weak, one day, if he were to encounter Christ radically in another Christian Tradition, he would easily be converted and join that particular Christian community.  This is equally valid when it comes to inter-religious conversions as well.

Consequently, using doctrinal proofs to put down another religion or another Christian Tradition is not helpful in bringing about conversion.  Very few are converted by logical argument and intellectual proofs.  It only works for those who do not have a deep religious encounter in their own Christian Tradition.  So, with superficial knowledge of their doctrines and confused in what they believe, they would then become vulnerable when aggressive Christians challenge their weak faith.  But the conversion will only take place when they are brought to another Christian Tradition and when they encounter God there.  The crux of conversion really is the ability of the Christian Tradition to mediate a radical Christ-experience.   Hence, the Charismatic and Pentecostal renewal, because of its power to bring people into personal contact with the Lord through preaching, healing and works of wonders, have resulted in many radical conversions.

But one radical conversion is not sufficient to bring a Christian to full maturity of faith after accepting Christ.  Conversion must be ongoing.  We constantly need to renew our encounter with the Lord.  Thus, after that experience of the dazzling light and the voice of Christ from heaven, St Paul continued to enjoy a series of Christ-encounters throughout his life and ministry.  Following the Damascus experience, St Paul later received the healing of his sight.  “Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.”  He also received the power of healing, exorcism, the gift of tongues, prophecy, as mentioned in today’s gospel. “These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.”

As Christians, when we come together, instead of trying to disprove and put down the other person’s faith beliefs, it would be more productive if we share our conversion experience stories and our encounters with the Lord together.   As Christians, we are called to enrich and empower each other in our faith in Christ, not to destroy each other’s faith.  This is lacking in charity and love.  Worse still, when Christians misrepresent the faith beliefs and practices of another Christian Tradition, causing confusion and disunity.  Such distorted presentation of the beliefs of other Christian Traditions tantamount to dishonesty, deceit and lacking both in justice and charity.  Playing on the vulnerability of weak members of the Church and attacking another Christian Tradition is not the way of charity. Such practices go against the gospel completely because we are to speak the truth in charity.

For this reason, we need to bring about another level of conversion.  It is not enough to have a conversion experience or ongoing experiences but we also need a conversion of heart and mind, that is, our attitudes and relationship with Christians who do not share in our Tradition.  We need to remove prejudices from the way we look at other Christian Traditions.  That was what the Lord asked of Ananias when he was reluctant to go to Saul.  Ananias retorted, “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name.” But Jesus assured him, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”

The work of Ecumenism remains important in the task of the New Evangelization. Christian disunity remains the biggest scandal of Christianity.  We cannot call others to communion in Christ if His disciples are divided, squabbling among themselves and divided.  As St John wrote, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 Jn 4:7f)  The mission of the Church, which is communion, must be accomplished in communion with and among all Christians.  Unity and love are the most powerful signs and criteria that Christ is real.  Otherwise, all that we preach, regardless how inspiring and beautiful it might be, will be in vain.  That explains why aggressive proselytizing has given Christianity a bad name, as if the gospel is forced upon people.  The Good News, to be good, is offered freely as a gift; not compelled or coerced in any way.  It is done in gentleness, humility and as an act of sincere love, not an intention to win converts at all costs for one’s Church.   It is not about numbers but about the depth of conversion.

To foster unity among Christians, we need to underscore what Christians have in common as Disciples of Christ.   We must avoid competition or worse, seeing each other as enemies and heretics.  Rather, we need to appreciate each other’s traditions and see what we can learn from each other to enrich our own faith and practices.  We begin with shared experiences of Christ.  Following which, we can have shared prayers, contemplation and the Word of God.  Catholics have much to learn from the Christians in cultivating a personal relationship with the Lord, especially through the Word of God.  Non-Catholic Christians could learn much from the Catholic Tradition, the mystical tradition of contemplation.   They too can learn to balance the one-sided emphasis on the Word of God with the Sacramental experiences of God in the liturgy.   Catholics, too, could balance the emphasis on right doctrines with the preaching of the Word of God aimed at conversion of heart, living a life of Christian discipleship and evangelization.

Indeed, we have much to learn from each other’s Christian tradition.  Instead of competing with each other, we need to complete each other, deepening each other’s faith experience and encounter with the Lord.  Where possible, there should be joint Catholic and Christian services, social involvement in reaching out to the needy and the marginalized.  On the higher level, among theologians, there could be sincere common search for the fullness of truth through doctrinal dialogue conducted in humility and charity.

St Paul gives us the marks of the true Christian in his letter to the Romans, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.” (Rom 12:9-16)

In conclusion, what is most important is that all are brought to Christ, regardless of which Christian Tradition one belongs to.  Christ is our Saviour, the Truth, the Way and the Life.  There are many ways to deepen this experience and relationship with Christ in the different Christian Traditions.  We respect the different approaches and we can maintain our own doctrinal convictions.  But let us not forget the bigger picture of bringing Christ to all those who do not yet know Him, rather than fighting, jostling and recruiting members from other Churches to our own.  This is not to say that we cannot, but as said, the Good News must be offered freely, without coercion or slandering or misrepresenting another Christian Tradition.

In this way, with greater unity, love and mutual respect and encouragement, the world will see that although each Christian Tradition has its distinctiveness and beauty, none contradicts or competes with each other.  The way to Christ comes through many paths.  It is the duty of each individual, with the grace of God, to choose and walk in that path.  Whichever path one takes, it must lead to a life of love, service, humility, reverence and respect for others who do not share our faith or our Christian Tradition.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh

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