27 April 2007. Friday of the 3rd Week of Easter
Acts 9, 1-20 Our Road to Damascus
We take our reflection today from the Acts of the Apostles, the first reading today. It narrates one of the most beautiful stories of conversion — the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. With a record of brutalizing and persecuting Christianity such as the martyrdom of St. Stephen, he was converted to Christianity and became the apostle Paul. On his way to annihilate the Christians in Damascus, Saul was blinded by a brilliant light that he fell to the ground. He heard a voice, “Why are you persecuting me?” From then on, Paul would claim that he had seen Christ, and thus qualifies himself as an apostle, “Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?” He would travel to Damascus, where he would be healed by Ananias, baptized a Christian, and later became the chief founding father of early Christianity. He would bring Christianity to the Gentile world, paving the way for Christianity to move from a Jewish sect to a universal Church. We owe thus our faith to Paul. The bulk of the New Testament is from Paul.
The road to Damascus is a good metaphor of conversion. It is so beautiful that this imagery has been celebrated in art such as Caravaggio (1571-1610) and music such as the choral motet by Giaches de Wert (1535-96). Paul’s “road to Damascus” is a testimony of the absolute forgiveness of our sins, offered by our faith and the grace of God. The gravity of Paul’s sins namely eradicating Christianity, participation in the brutal death of people, that conveys the message that any sinner, no matter how grave his or her sins, are forgiven.
It also tells us that God can make use of any of us, despite our sinfulness. In a vision, the Lord told Ananias to seek a man from Tarsus named Saul who was praying. Ananias knew who Saul was and said, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem and he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings, and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” At this Ananias looked for Saul, and help him regained his vision. And we all know what happened to this sinner until his death for the Christian faith in Rome.
Let us reflect on two things today. First, on our personal conversion. What is your “road to Damascus”? Have you experienced the gravity of your sins, but despite it, the Lord forgives us absolutely and without question?
Second, on our attitude towards others. Do you have this sense of self-righteousness especially on other people you think are sinners and thus unworthy of holy service. For example, how many have reservations of lay ministers assisting in holy communion? Some would even line up where the priest is, and transfer to another line when a lay minister comes to take one of his line? Remember Paul was a murderer, but to him God gave the task of preaching the Good News to the Gentiles. No one can outshine the work of Paul in our faith. Even present day priests. It is not us who chooses God’s instrument. Who are we to judge whom God should choose?