Friday, May 4, 2012

5th Sunday of Easter (B): I AM the Vine and you are the branches

Saul, at the "foot" of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3)
Today's Readings, Psalmody and Gospel
"Saul" of Tarsus, near Rabbi Gamaliel, c35 A.D.

Alternate Title:

"Saint Paul Teaches Us The Meaning Of 

Our Responsorial Psalm": Ps 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32

I will praise you, Lord, in the assembly of your people.

Today our focus will be on Saint Paul of Tarsus.  Saul was his Hebrew name.  He was perhaps the first great theologian and philosopher of the Church.  In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, 
we hear of his return to Jerusalem, no longer a Jew and disciple of the great
Rabbi Gamaliel (and persecutor of the Church).  Now Saint Paul is an Apostle of Christ;
indeed "The Apostle", a title bestowedon him by the great Doctorof the Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas (14th Century, Summa Theologae).

Paul returns to Jerusalem and receives a not so welcome reception by the infant Church.  Saint Barnabus attest to his worthiness before the disciples there present but very much afraid of him.  Their fear was well founded; they were aware of his murderous reputation.  

You see they knew that Saul was present at the martyrdom of Saint Stephen the Deacon and later went to exterminate the Church in Damascus.  He had a written decree from the Temple authorities (Pharisees, Saducees, High Priest) that gave him the authority to do so.   It was on the road to Damascus that the risen and glorified Lord intervened:
Christ, the Living God says, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute ME" (Acts 26:14)
Divine Intervention!  Saul is blinded, then led to Damascus by merciful men and converted and taught the one, true faith.  He meets the good disciple Barnabus who is eventually put in charge of his care.
How can a simple, yet brilliantly educated man be so misled so as to become angry, in fact murderous?
How can a man who practiced the covenantal faith of the children of God proffer evil?
What can this teach us about the power of metanoia, total conversion to Our Lord?

Ultimately Saul failed virtue; he was in fact concupiscent and visceral in his terrible and grave sinfulness: his open persecution of innocent disciples of Christ.  Before he could carry out this ill-fated mission to Damascus, Our Lord interceded.  He blinded him and questioned him in what must have been a haunting voice, "Why do you persecute me"?

Later in his missionary work and now fully "converted",  Saint Paul would "pontificate" about the Eucharist in his classic Body of Christ discourse (1 Cor 12:27), bringing to fruition what Christ taught him on the road to Damascus.  He is surely "high up" in Heaven.  The man who once had the innocent blood of Saint Stephen on his hands (there is no doubting his complicity in the first martyr's death).

The story of Saint Paul's conversion teaches us...

Forgiveness and

Not our limited power and false notions of authority.
The Authority
OF GOD, who is:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit

glorifies us when we know to direct our divine will to seek his greater glory.....

ad majorem dei glorium

when we succeed as Saint Paul did so often, we can echo his words:
It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.... (Gal 2:20)
Saint Paul's letter to the Galatians, Chapter 2, Verse 20

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