Today we celebrate our parish patronal feast, The Conversion of St. Paul. As luck would have it (and by luck I mean what was most likely many hours of prayer and planning on the part of the Vatican) this day also marks the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. On this day last year Pope Benedict XVI spoke hopefully of not only conversion and renewal in our hearts, but of renewal in the Christian community as a whole in the form of true Christian unity. Here are a few excerpts from his homily giving during Solemn Vespers:
Following the extraordinary event happened on the road to Damascus, Saul, who was distinguished for the zeal with which he persecuted the early Church, was transformed into a tireless apostle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In the story of this extraordinary evangelist, it is clear that this transformation is not the result of a long inner reflection and not even the result of personal effort. It is first and foremost by the grace of God who has acted according to his inscrutable ways.This transformation has its basis in our participation in the mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and presents itself as a gradual process of being conformed to Him.
The song of victory over death is transformed into a song of gratitude to the conqueror And we too this evening, as we raise our evening praises to God, we want to unite our voices, our minds and hearts to this hymn of thanksgiving for what God’s grace has done through the apostle of the Gentiles and for the wonderful plan of salvation that God the Father does in us through the Lord Jesus Christ. As we lift our prayers to him, we are confident that we will be transformed and conformed to the image of Christ. This is particularly true in our prayer for Christian unity. In fact, when we plead for the gift of unity of the disciples of Christ, we make ours the desire expressed by Jesus Christ on the eve of his passion and death in the prayer to his Father: “May they all be one” (Jn 17.21).
The presence of the risen Christ calls all Christians to act together for the common good. United in Christ, we are called to share his mission, which is to bring hope to the places where there is injustice, hatred and despair. Our divisions diminish our witness to Christ. The goal of full unity, which we await with active hope and for which we pray with confidence, it is a secondary victory but important for the good of the human family.
In the dominant culture of today, the idea of victory is often associated with immediate success. For the Christian, however, victory is a long and, in the eyes of men, a not always linear process of transformation and growth in goodness. It is achieved according to God’s timing, not ours, and requires of us a profound faith and patient endurance.
St. Paul, pray for us, that we may be ever drawn into a closer relationship with our Lord, and a deeper unity with Christians everywhere.
His Holiness’ homily can be found in its entirety here.