Reading (Acts 22:3-16) Gospel (St. Mark 16:15-18)
In the first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear about the conversion of Saint Paul and how he was struck down at noontime as he was going to Damascus with a letter from the high priest to round up any Christian person, male or female, who was living according to the way of Christ. They were putting these people into jail. As he was going to Damascus, suddenly a bright light shone around Saint Paul and he heard the Lord’s voice calling to him. And as he worked through the three days he was blinded and Ananias came to see him, Ananias told him that it was time to be baptized.
We look at this conversion of Saint Paul – needless to say, it is a very dramatic one – and yet we have to ask, “Why didn’t something like that happen to me?” Perhaps our own individual conversions have been pretty extraordinary, but, for the most part, that is not quite the way it works. The reason for this is very important. When you are dealing with God, the more obvious and extraordinary something is, the more you are going to suffer. For somebody like Saint Paul, who obviously had a few things he needed to be purified of, he was going to suffer terribly. Part of what was not in this reading today but is in fact in this section is when Ananias objected and said, “But I’ve heard about this man.” The Lord said, This is the one I have chosen, and I Myself will decide how much he will have to suffer for My name. Of course, we know from Saint Paul’s own words how much he had to endure. We understand also, then, that if the point of conversion had not been so extraordinary, he would have quit, or at least there would have been a much greater chance of that.
The same is true with us. When God calls us to something, for most of us, He calls us in ordinary ways, and we are going to have to endure the ordinary forms of suffering that come along with whatever it is we are called to do. But if He calls you in an extraordinary way, whether that is to conversion to the Faith, or whether that is to your own particular individual vocation, it is because what He is going to ask of you is not just the ordinary but is more extraordinary. The more extraordinary the call, the more extraordinary the suffering that is going to go along with the call.
Our Lord speaks to each one of us, regardless of how things came about in our lives, and in the Gospel He tells us, Go out to all the world and preach the Good News. That is a mandate to each and every one of us. All of us, according to our own personalities and our own states in life, have an obligation to preach the Gospel, to bring the Gospel out to others. Once again, we remember what Saint Paul told Timothy, that we have to accept our share of the hardship which the Gospel entails. If we are going to preach the Word of God, there is going to be one unfortunate individual who is eternally in hell who is not going to be happy. He is going to try to make our lives miserable, and he will stir up his minions to do the same. But with Saint Paul, remember that at this point in his life, he had already put Saint Steven to death and he had rounded up Christian people in Jerusalem and its environs and put them in jail. There were many people suffering because of what this man had done. It is precisely the suffering of these individuals and the death of Saint Stephen that brought about the conversion of Saint Paul. And so when we have to accept our particular share in the suffering of Christ, it is to bring about, not only purification for our own souls, but good for others.
When you look at the Cross, you realize that suffering cannot be removed from the equation. We have all kinds of people who want to say, “Jesus did all the suffering for me, so I don’t have to suffer.” There is not one single place in Scripture where that is even hinted at. There are many places in Scripture that talk about how we need to share the suffering of Christ, but no place does it say that Jesus did it so we do not have to. Remember that now in the Eucharist there is no suffering, and so it is our suffering that has to be united with the sacrifice of Christ. We have to take our share of the suffering which the Gospel entails. We have to be willing to accept a share in the suffering of Christ so others will be able to come to Christ or have a deeper conversion. That is what the Lord is looking for.
We see that each one of us needs to have our own conversion to Christ, which obviously we do or we would not be here today. Yet, at the same time, He says, Go out to all the world and tell the Good News. Spread the Gospel; that comes with a price. The conversion of souls comes with a price, and the spreading of the Gospel comes with a price. We look at the crucifix and see what He has already done so this can happen. Now He asks that we would share in His work to not only continue His ministry of preaching the Gospel, but also to accept our share of the hardship that the Gospel entails.
So do not necessarily pray that God will do something extraordinary for you, because if that happens then be prepared to accept the suffering that will come with something extraordinary. Regardless of how ordinary or extraordinary things are in our own lives, all of us share the same mandate to go out to all the world and preach the Good News.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.