Yesterday afternoon I met with two students that are preparing for their first communion. In that particular class we were discussing the sacrament of reconciliation. Some time during the beginning of Lent they will celebrate this sacrament, so we were discussing forgiveness.
The example that we used was the parable of the prodigal son. We all know the story from Luke 15. It was especially relevant to them as they are two brothers, twins, and can relate to wanting to get their hands on some cash to go on a wild spending spree. The thought of an unlimited supply of sour patch kids was almost too much too control.
We discussed the story, the freedom, the drought, the desperation, the pigs, and finally the decision to go back home to ask for forgiveness. I asked what their parent’s reaction would be. Both agreed that their mother would immediately welcome then back but that it would take a little work to get the nod their dad. Then I asked about how they would feel if it had been their brother that had taken off and was now being welcomed back. Both immediately said that they would have no problem, they would gladly welcome the other back. “What about the part that your parents would throw a party for him?” No problem. “What about the expensive food and party favors?” No problem.
I asked if there would be any condition under which they would not welcome their brother back … they looked at each other and said in unison, No problem.
This, I explained, was the basis for the sacrament of reconciliation. This is how unconditionally God our father loves, and forgives, us.
Today is the feast of the conversion of Saint Paul. The first reading had two options to read from, Acts chapters 22 and chapter 9. Both are basically the same story and both, if you think about it, are versions of the story of the prodigal son.
There may not have been any half of an inheritance, or a shopping spree, or sour patch kids, or pig pens but there was privilege, a willful turning from the father, a realization of a need for amends and a welcoming healing.
Paul was an active persecutor of “men and women who belonged to the Way”. An early reference to the followers of Christ. He had the authority to hunt down these followers and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. On one such hunting trip he was struck from his horse by “a light from the sky [that] suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”. He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Isn’t it interesting that the first thing that happens to Paul, after hearing the word of God, is that he is blind? How often does God speak to us and we seem to come up blind, deaf and dumb. And here with Paul, “when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing.” They had to lead him by the hand to Damascus.
The disciple of the lord, Ananias, on the other hand heard the voice of the Lord and immediately answers, “Here I am lord”. So, the question this morning is whether this reading from the acts is a lesson of God’s forgiveness, after all Paul was a son that had fallen very fall from the way of God and was clearly forgiven back into Gods love. Or is it a lesson of how God calls us and how we respond?
As we typically find in our readings the answer is not either / or. It is both / and. Today we hear of Gods love. He so loves us that he desperately wants us to be with Him. And we hear of how God called Paul.
The prodigal son was welcomed back with unquestioning love, fine clothes, jewelry, a grand feast and Paul was called back to share the love of God by being one of the greatest of evangelists. The question become what do we do with that love. We never hear again of that prodigal son. Does he decide to stay home, honor his father and love his brother? Yesterday we decided that he did. We know what becomes of Paul, we know what he wrote, what he preached and how he lived. The only open question is how will we respond?
This week we will start the Thursday adoration again, in about 4 weeks we will start up our Lenten bible study, how will we respond to these or other callings?
So, I leave you with the Alleluia verse that our lector just read:
I chose you from the world, to go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord.
Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that,
if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way,
he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus,
a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
He said, “Who are you, sir?”
The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless,
for they heard the voice but could see no one.
Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.
There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias,
and the Lord said to him in a vision, Ananias.”
He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight.”
But Ananias replied,
“Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man,
what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests
to imprison all who call upon your name.”
But the Lord said to him,
“Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine
to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,
and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
“Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.
He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus,
and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,
that he is the Son of God.
All who heard him were astounded and said,
“Is not this the man who in Jerusalem
ravaged those who call upon this name,
and came here expressly to take them back in chains
to the chief priests?”
But Saul grew all the stronger
and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus,
proving that this is the Christ.
January 25, 2022
January 25, 2022