Saturday, January 26, 2013

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Acts 9:1-22
Ps 117
Mk 16:15-18

The dramatic description of Paul’s conversion experience has kept neuropsychchiatrists engaged in discussion about the nature of the experience for a long time .  Was it an occipital lobe migraine that caused the flash of light—a visual hallucination—followed by three days of blindness?  It is possible.  Was it an epileptic seizure?  Also possible.  The voice is more of a problem.  Because the others heard it, though they did not see the flash of light, one could not call it an auditory hallucination.  Auditory hallucinations are not group events.  On the other hand, is it possible that they heard Paul’s voice repeat what he was hearing while in something of a trance state?  It is a bit of a stretch but one could not completely rule it out.  When this narrative is cited in the medical literature the focus is exclusively on Paul.  Ananais’ experience is never mentioned.   Nor is the way in which Paul regained his sight. 

Of course the neuropsychiatric literature never mentions the startling change in Paul’s attitude and behavior.  It is this last, the effect of the spectacular details, that is the important part of the narrative.  In response to the action of grace Paul abandoned his ultra-militant opposition to the followers of the Way in order to embrace it himself.  The pursuer had joined the pursued.

Obviously others were startled, cynical and initially mistrustful.  Given Paul’s history the wariness of others was not only justified it was prudent.  Too many of us get into trouble by trusting charming antisocial characters and charlatans as well as outright liars.  Loving one’s neighbor should not be synonymous with stupidity.  How did others see Paul in the early flush of his conversion?  Was he a wolf in sheep’s clothing or was this a bona fide conversion?  We know the answer but Paul’s contemporaries were correct in the caution. 

There was a triple effect of his conversion.  First, Paul saw God in a new way, in a new light.  Similarly he saw others in a different way.  And finally and most critically, he saw himself in a new light.  Paul now saw himself in the light magnificently described by Augustine in his Confessions when he wrote, “This light was above me because it had made me; I was below it because I was created by it.  He who has come to know the truth knows this light.” It was a blinding light that obscured his vision for three days. But, isn’t that the effect of receiving one’s vocation? Paul received his vocation as missionary to the Gentiles in the fascinating and dramatic experience detailed here. 

It is unlikely that any of us received his vocation to the Society in such dramatic fashion.  However, if we ignore the drama in this reading we see that our call to the Society was not much different from Paul’s call to the Way:  Commit to following Jesus and do so for life, despite the tribulations resulting from that commitment.  As we commemorate the Conversion of St. Paul we are called to recall our own conversion, to reaffirm it, and to give thank for that call to follow

The Way,
The Truth,
and The Life.
It's too darn cold.  
I has been a while since I've experienced consistent temperatures as low as they've been the past week.  D.C. does not get this kind of weather.  It has been even longer for Ignatius who arrived from Taiwan for a 6-month stay.  The coldest it gets in Taipei is around 45F.  We were walking back to the house in 5 degree weather on Thursday when a gust of wind hit.  I've not seen him move that fast in a long time.  The AM lows have been around 5 to 9 with daytime highs hitting 28 or so.  

All of this of course made me recall two years ago this very moment when the tertian class in Australia went to Gerroa Beach in southern New South Wales so as to get to know each other.  Staring at the photos takes some of the chill off but not all of it.  

We arrived at Gerroa on a glorious Saturday afternoon.  Sunday dawned clear, sunny and warm (every single day was like that, sun, heat, no humidity and no rain).  Quite a sight compared with what I'd left behind. 

 Sunsets were spectacular.  Long walks on a deserted beach are something of cliche but, after doing so every night, it was easy to understand why. 
The tree jutting out into the ocean remained a source of photographic fascination.  The winds permanently altered its shape and lean.
The steps down to the water saw a lot of tertian foot traffic. 
Close-ups of shells on the beach are an always productive option.  John The, the other heavy-duty photographer in the class and I seemed to take photos of the same shells at different times.  

Time to drink more hot tea. 
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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