Thursday, January 29, 2009

Conversion of St. Paul

Acts of the Apostles 22:3-16
Mark 16:15-18

Last Saturday afternoon I was in my room in San Francisco, having just completed a workshop that morning. I had no particular plans, but decided to check my email. There was a message from a young lady named Sarah, who I knew from the late 90s when I was a pastor in Knoxville, Tennessee. She now lived in California, married with a new baby. I had not seen her in years. She had obtained my email from a mutual friend. Sarah was in San Francisco at that moment, in a hospital with her new baby who needed open heart surgery. Sarah wanted the baby to receive sacraments. The baby, Arlie Mae, had not even been baptized. Sarah, though a Catholic, had not been married in the Catholic Church. The Holy Spirit was at work, to have me available in San Francisco just at the moment that I was needed for Sarah.

I said I would baptize Arlie Mae. I gathered up the oils, candle, baptism stole, ritual book, and took a streetcar to the hospital. There I baptized Arlie Mae, with Mom, Dad, and one grandmother present. Everyone was very happy and relieved. I did not ask a lot of questions, or withhold baptism to punish Sarah for not getting married in the Church. I felt that she needed to experience the Jesus whom we preach, the One who is accepting, forgiving, and loving unconditionally. Sarah needed to experience the Jesus that has changed my life. If I am to proclaim this Jesus, then I had better live, “no longer I but Christ lives in me,” as St. Paul says.

Let’s look at Paul. He was a rather nasty person to Christians. He was trying to kill them. He was against Jesus, even though he had never met Jesus. When he met Jesus on that road to Damascus, Jesus did not condemn him, though Paul was a person of very bad behavior. Jesus questioned him, and then challenged him, but a challenge that had a lot of love, forgiveness and acceptance to it. Jesus wanted Paul to be his preacher of the Good News. The Good News for Paul is that Jesus came upon this earth without our request, lived in a loving way and even died for us, without us changing one bit. God acts first with love. God is Love. Then God invites us to become this Good News. We are free to choose. There is no fire and brimstone. No one can love God out of fear.

I am not sure that my friend Sarah had ever experienced the Jesus who Paul knew and I know. Sarah had not been a faithfully worshipping Catholic, and maybe her faith was a bit cloudy, but not as cloudy as was Paul’s. In her love and need for her baby, Sarah reached out for the Church to give her comfort and support. Her daughter is now a baptized Catholic, and I think that Sarah’s life is changed for the better. I believe she is coming to know Jesus the Christ, and she will pass this on to her child.

The surgery went well and Arlie Mae has her heart all fixed. So has Sarah.

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