Monday, January 25, 2010

Go Out To All The World And Tell The Good News!

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle
Reading I Acts 22:3-16
Paul addressed the people in these words:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia,
but brought up in this city.
At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly
in our ancestral law and was zealous for God,
just as all of you are today.
I persecuted this Way to death,
binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.
Even the high priest and the whole council of elders
can testify on my behalf.
For from them I even received letters to the brothers
and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem
in chains for punishment those there as well.
“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky
suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’
And he said to me,
‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’
My companions saw the light
but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’
The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told about everything
appointed for you to do.’
Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light,
I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.

“A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law,
and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
came to me and stood there and said,
‘Saul, my brother, regain your sight.’
And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.
Then he said,
‘The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before all
to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay?
Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away,
calling upon his name.’”

There are two accounts of the conversion of Saint Paul in the Acts of the Apostles: 9:1-22 is Luke's objective narrative of the event; 22:3-16 is the account Paul gives many years later, when he is arrested for disturbing the peace of Jerusalem by preaching in the name of Jesus. Both tell the same story.

As the story opens, Saul of Tarsus goes to the high priest to obtain letters authorizing him to go to the synagogues in Damascus, and, if he found any “followers of the Way” (Christians), to bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. As he approached the city, there was a brilliant flash of light and Saul fell to the ground. He heard a voice saying: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Quite puzzled, he replied: “Who are you, sir?” The answer came: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” This must have been news to him. To attack the followers of Jesus was to attack Jesus himself. “As often as you do it to even the least of my followers, you do it to me.” It is significant that when Saul got to his feet, he was blind. But it was not just a physical blindness; he had not been able to see Jesus as the Word of God. He would stay like this for three days and during that time he took neither food nor drink.

Then a Christian called Ananias was told to go and baptize Saul. Not surprisingly, Ananias was not keen on going to see a man who was going all out to get rid of Jesus’ followers. But he was reassured that this was what God wanted. “This man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles, kings and Israelites.” Ananias, presumably with some trepidation, then went to Saul and told him that the Lord had sent him so that Saul could regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit. He laid hands on Saul’s head. Immediately scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. But what he could see was now very different from what he saw before his blindness. He was ready for baptism.

The rest, as they say, is history. Almost immediately, Saul began to go to the synagogues of Damascus proclaiming that Jesus was the Son of God. It was an extraordinary transformation. Later, his name will be changed to Paul. From then on, he will launch on an extraordinary career of bringing the Gospel to both Jewish and Gentile communities in what is now Turkey, in Greece and ultimately in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire. This is reflected in the words of the Gospel where Jesus, before his ascension, tells his disciples: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

Each one of us has been baptized, most of us at a very early age. But becoming a Christian is not just a once for all event. The process of conversion to a deeper following of Christ is something that can and should continue right through our lives. It is also important to realize that, like Paul, every one of us is called not just to take care of our own spiritual wellbeing but that our following of Christ is something that calls on us to share that message with people around us, “to proclaim the Gospel to every creature”.
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Responsorial Psalm 117
Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
Praise the Lord, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever.
Go out to all the world, and tell the Good News.
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Gospel Mark 16:15-18
Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them:
“Go into the whole world
and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved;
whoever does not believe will be condemned.
These signs will accompany those who believe:
in my name they will drive out demons,
they will speak new languages.
They will pick up serpents with their hands,
and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.
They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

Today's Gospel reading is from the end of Mark’s gospel, from what is sometimes referred to as the “longer ending” to distinguish it from a “shorter” one. Both of these texts are thought not to be from the original version of Mark but were inserted to round off the ending of this gospel which ends rather abruptly with the women on Easter Sunday fleeing from the empty tomb “bewildered and trembling” and, because of their great fear, “they said nothing to anyone”.

Today’s reading includes instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples before leaving them for the last time. They are words which apply very much to Paul. They begin with the instructions to proclaim the Good News to the whole of creation. This is exactly what Paul was doing as he reached out to Gentile communities all the way from what is now modern Turkey, through Greece and Macedonia and on to Rome.

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved." Paul was second to none in his belief in Christ. He would be able to say later on, “I live, no, it is not I, but Christ lives in me.” An expression of total union with his Lord.

Jesus then indicates some of the signs that will accompany those who profess their faith. Again, Paul was capable of many of these – like escaping great dangers and bringing healing and wholeness into people’s lives.

Conversion is not something that happens only once in a lifetime. It is something that can happen to us several times in the course of our life. Let us be ready to answer whenever the Lord calls us to something greater.

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