One of the Bible’s greatest figures, Sr. Paul, was the focus of our liturgy this week. Paul is a character for every person. He has always been a favorite of mine. Last summer, when I was in Rome, I had the opportunity to visit the church established on the site where Paul was martyred. In the corner of the church was an altar symbolizing where he was beheaded. Actually, to be quite graphic, his head rolled and bounced. The main altar is located where his head landed. Even though it is rather graphic I do appreciate the dramatic end of his life. He suffered horribly due to his faith.
At the other end of the chapel, is the stunning painting of the martyrdom of St. Peter. The two disciples, Peter and Paul, were, by far, the greatest of all disciples. God always succeeds in providing the right person for the right time in history, I think. Peter took his faith to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles. The combination enabled the early church to flourish.
I also visited the Mamertine Prison where he was held. We could not enter it because of repairs. It was, again, the site of a remarkable experience of the presence of God in a miracle.
Paul is my favorite in regards to vocation discernment, as well. His story is truly our story. Well – our conversion may not have the same violence and drama. Paul was a well known persecutor of Christians and was probably present , if not the stone thrower, at the martyrdom of Stephen, often credited with being the first to die for Jesus. From there Paul (originally known as Saul) was blinded by the light, so to speak. His experience changed his vision, life and actions. This experience – involving light, a fall, blindness, and nurture by a Christian couple – moved his life in new ways. He traveled far and wide to found a church based on the life and teachings of Christ. The Epistles of the New Testament are a credit to his missionary work.
Conversion comes in dramatic moments and in the quiet of our daily lives. Paul’s faith is an inspiration to me, has always been important in my own story. He stands out as a truly human person who experienced such a profound experience of God that he became a brand new person. Jesus can have that effect if we pay attention to our experiences and what they mean. Even the wildest background can be left behind and a new path taken.
What (blinding) experiences have you had that lead you to reflect on the path ahead?