Always a favorite feast of mine, today has been a special celebration of the Conversion of St. Paul. For more than any reason, from the very beginning of this day, I have been blessed with a sense of the nearness of Christ, and that grace has abided throughout the day. Partially, no doubt, is the setting. I am with a dear friend, who has always been Christ to me, and tomorrow will celebrate his 20th anniversary as a bishop.
The Conversion of St. Paul is a great teaching moment for all of us. This incredible moment reminds us that even after the resurrection, Christ continues to live and interact in our lives. Obviously, he had great plans for St. Paul, and thus an immediate conversion was necessary. Christ’s powerful interaction in St. Paul’s life would seem to indicate the powerful way he intended to act through him in the life of the early Church.
But, we should not discount the fact that Christ is present in the life of every believer. Just as St. Paul came to know Christ in a very personal way, so Christ wishes to be personally encountered by each of us. This is such a critical point for us to believe, and should also be at the heart of all our prayer. St. Ignatius of Loyola used to pray: “Father, place me with your Son.” When we pray, it is important to imagine and believe Christ to be close, not distant; to be personal, not just a ‘thought.’
Jesus spoke to St. Paul. Jesus revealed many truths and mysteries to him. Jesus sustained St. Paul through many trials, giving power to his words and courage to his apostolic ministry. When we are open, Jesus comes to us. When we pray with firm faith and fervent desire, Jesus reveals himself to us. Jesus alone determines the manner in which we experience his presence and the degree to which we come to know him and his truth – but the reality is – he comes. He speaks. He draws us into a living relationship with himself.
I have reflected today on the moments in which I have encountered Jesus, and I give thanks. In reality, I have built my life upon this foundational relationship, and it is Christ who gives meaning and purpose to my life. I pray that as St. Paul bore so much fruit in the service of Christ and by the power of his Name, so too may my life and ministry bear fruit – fruit that remains.
That is my prayer for you, my friends. May you have this life-giving encounter with Jesus. May Christ then become the foundation and sole purpose of your life. Then, may your life bear much fruit, sharing the life that Christ came to share with all the world.
Today has also drawn my attention to the episcopal ring I wear. The ring was given to me as a part of the ordination ceremony for a new bishop. This particular ring is called a Council Ring, referring to the Second Vatican Council, and the original rings Pope Paul VI had made for the Council Fathers. Still to this day, most bishops wear or at least own this ring.
It is significant, because it has the same symbolic meaning of a wedding ring, only in this case, the spouse of a bishop is the Church, or more personally, God’s holy people. As you will notice, this ring bears the image of Christ in the center, with St. Paul on one side, and St. Peter on the other.
Clearly, a bishop also shares a spousal relationship with Christ. Just as Christ called St. Paul to follow him, so too every bishop. To the degree we remain faithful in that discipleship, our lives help sustain the Church. Please pray for me and all bishops, that our lives may always be rooted in Christ, for the building up of his body, the Church.
St. Paul, Pray for us!