Friday January 25, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Acts 22:3-16) Gospel (St. Mark 16:15-18)
Today we celebrate one of the most important events that took place in the history of the Church: the Conversion of Saint Paul. Saint Paul himself tells us that when it comes to the strict observance of Judaism there was nobody who did it better than he did, that he was just in accordance with the old law, and that he had learned it strictly under the teacher Gamaliel, who was considered to be the greatest rabbi to ever have lived. Gamaliel taught the law very strictly, and Saint Paul was his star pupil. God allowed Saint Paul, then (at that time he was Saul of Tarsus), to be trained and formed in the law, to understand the old way better than anyone, and then to persecute the Church, to be so zealous for the Lord that he actually worked against the Lord.
But it was only in that that Saint Paul was able to understand (when his conversion took place) what the mercy of God really was about. This man, who was so zealous for the law that he was filled with hatred for any Gentile and for anyone who would follow this new Way of Christ, suddenly would become the preacher to the Gentiles. He would have to turn his heart from hatred to love. He was not going to be able to bring the Gospel to his own people, the Jewish people, because they would not accept it: He was one of them; he was their greatest, of all the students of the law, so he could not go back to them because they would not listen to him. But he would be able to go to the Gentiles. He understood fully well - because he knew the Scriptures - that the Gentiles would be coheirs with the Jews; he just did not understand how it was going to happen. But he became the greatest and most staunch defender of Jesus Christ.
That is what we need to understand for ourselves. There are two points that we need to see: first of all, that oftentimes those who are the most opposed, when they convert, they become the greatest of those who will adhere to the faith. So for those of you who may be married to somebody who is giving you a great amount of difficulty for living your faith, just keep praying for them. The more difficult they make it, in essence, the better that is - not only for your growth in the spiritual life, but for the day that they convert because then they will go all the way to the other end. If you have a mediocre spouse, if they convert, they are just going to be a mediocre Catholic. If you have somebody who really hates what you are doing, if they convert, they are really going to love what you are doing.
And the other side of being able to see what happened to Saint Paul: remember, this is the man who stood there as Saint Stephen was martyred, this is the man who was arresting people and putting them into prison for following Christ, yet, it was by dealing with his own sin that he came to understand God's mercy. The same is true for each one of us. The conversion has already happened in our lives, except it has to continue to grow deeper. The way that we understand God's mercy and the way that we will find true and whole salvation is when we look at the very worst sins we have committed and are able to understand that God has forgiven us. In fact, He will use that precise thing we have done that is so awful and He will actually turn that around and use it for good. That makes no sense to us on the natural level; only God can do such a thing. But the very worst thing we have done, the greatest bondage from which we suffer, will become the greatest means of freedom for us when we can truly accept God's mercy.
That is what we need to work on. When we look at ourselves, most of us probably struggle with the acceptance of God's mercy in at least one or two areas in our lives. Those are the areas where we are going to find the greatest freedom and where we will be able to praise God more than anything else in our lives when we understand His mercy in those areas. That is what Saint Paul understood, and that is what made him such a zealous preacher of the Gospel. He understood God's mercy. He saw what God did for him, and he was now going to bring that Good News to others. And so, for ourselves, we pray for the conversion of others. We also have to work on our own conversion: to continue to deepen it, to perfect it, to bring that conversion to the point where we can truly accept God's mercy - fully accept His forgiveness of our sins and the freedom that comes from that - and then bring that Good News of salvation and the freedom from sin to other people.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.