Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Wednesday word, 25 Jan 17
Conversion of St. Paul, Feast (25 Jan 2017)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J. on 8-day Directed Retreat
Too Real To Understand
My patron saint has been a companion from an early age. My mother recalled how she looked high and low for a statue of the Apostle Paul because I simply had to have one. Not just any statue: sacred art often depicts St. Paul holding a sword; when the sword points down it celebrates him as a martyr; when the sword points skyward it celebrates him as the Apostle to nations, who preached Christ Jesus and the power of his cross. I had to have the statue with Paul’s sword aiming upward. Such a statue graced my dresser for years; it helped me to enjoy companionship with my patron saint.
Today is not about me; it’s about you. My companion reminded me that St. Paul accompanies each Christian. He intercedes for us on retreat because he knew the need we have: to seclude ourselves for a time and do so with a purpose. We share his vocation to proclaim the Gospel to every creature; to carry [Jesus’] name to everyone. How does St. Paul help us? He reminds us retreat is God’s gift to us—our intention to come here cooperates with God’s gift to us. St. Paul also reminds that occasionally removing oneself from one’s usual pace and place leads to learn Jesus again and better. He wrote in a letter what he did when he realized God invited him to
proclaim [God’s son] to the Gentiles: I did not consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away into Arabia and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with the leaders of the apostles and of the Jerusalem church.1
St. Paul never disclosed what he did on his return to Damascus. It is reasonable to imagine he grew familiar with his new self: he had gone to Damascus with an aim to destroy Jesus’ church, a member at a time; he returned to be Jesus’ witness before all. Startlingly new!
Already your praying may have awakened you to a new thing.2 God is offering you. It may not yet be clear, but you may feel God inviting. Others may have come with some clarity concerning a desire or a need. Prayer, especially on retreat, is our opportunity to see ourselves as God sees us—with delight and loving knowledge.
Whatever is happening we don’t have to understand it; instead, we relish God’s action for us. The time to get used his new self afforded St. Paul the opportunity to be amazed at Jesus’ forgiving way and inviting Paul to be his companion on mission. In that time Paul relished what happened—he never understood it; it was too real for that. What he relished became bedrock for his life.
Our time on retreat is brief. To recognize and to relish what God is doing for us begins here. During our time after retreat God will continue what God has begun. St. Paul’s graced evolution from breathing murderous threats3 to being Jesus’ witness before all inspires us to continue to cooperate with what God is doing for each of us and to live from it.