Feast of the Conversion of St Paul
Acts 22:3-16; Psalm 117; Mark 16:15-18
Can you remember what you dreamed about last night? Remembering one’s dreams is dependent on us being aware of what happens between sleep and wakefulness. That state, called hypnogogia (or leading into or sending from sleep), has been the subject of much discussion of late. It’s been connected with creativity, sensitivity, better reflection that comes from greater openness. It’s a time of flux, change and a connection between sleep and being awake. Some psychologists say that it’s good to pay attention to that state. Why?
When we reflect about the conversion of St Paul, we think about what conversion could be. When we consider the experience of Saul in the 1st reading, we see an intense experience of God through the blinding light and the voice of the Lord which leads to his own blindness that lasted quite a while. He had to be led by his companions to Ananias who helped Saul regain his sight which was the start of his new life as the missionary apostle. We know what Saul was like before – a self-righteous persecutor of Christians and we know the Paul who tirelessly travelled the known world to spread the message of Christ to the gentiles. What happened during that period of blindness, that period of flux and change that caused this dramatic conversion?
Conversion is a time of change, a connection between the before and after where one goes from not knowing, to knowing, from not seeing to being able to see with new eyes that come from the Lord. We’re all baptised but that’s not the end of the story. We’re in need of constant conversion, constant reassessment of where we are in relation to the Lord so that we may deepen this knowledge and relationship with God. The Conversion of St Paul is a model for our lives and it might be good to look at how this process of conversion can work in our lives.
There seem to be three steps to the conversion, all of which are connected and equally important.
- It starts with a call. It could be the voice of God and blinding light for St Paul but could be something we see, a conversation or just a stray thought that hits us one day. This is the ‘alarm clock’ moment, when we’re shaken from our normal ‘slumber’ of life which can be led quite unreflectively. It’s a reminder of God being everywhere but specifically working in our lives. We should not stop here.
- The middle step is important – following and staying with the call. This is akin to the state of hypnogogia described before. It’s the state of flux where we are more sensitive and open to what’s going on around us. Saul was more sensitive, being blind, and allowed his friends to lead him to Ananias. Much must have been going through his mind during that time and the time he had to process the call and to reflect what it could mean to him allowed him to respond well to the Lord when he received his sight. The same goes for us. We should try to slow down and allow the Lord to work in our lives and to be aware of how this could happen. Being aware that we can be in a state of flux and to be open the Lord through prayer and reflection would definitely help in our continual conversion.
- We then move into full wakefulness, into action. That’s the message of the Gospel of today. We should not just focus on our spiritual well-being as we’re being converted. Conversion has a purpose and that purpose is summarised by the phrase ‘Go proclaim the Gospel’. We hear that at the end of mass and we should act on that by helping others to find God in their lives and to share our own conversion experiences. When we’re awake, we should go out to help wake others as well or at the very least, aid others in their waking up like Ananias did with Saul.
The signs described in the Gospel indicate what the converted can do. Proclaiming and spreading the word of God is important but sometimes, we need to realise that this applies to those who are already following the Lord. Sometimes we do need to preach to the choir so that we can they too can experience the conversion that seems so important in this Year of Mercy. Continual conversion helps us reach and feel the mercy of the Lord better. Continual conversion brings about a greater sensitivity to the Lord in all parts of our lives and that leads us to want to tell more people about it. Our job and our joy should be to help to wake the world to the love and mercy of God.