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St. Paul the Apostle……all I can say is Wow. Seriously!! What a story!! So many books have been written about this incredible leader of our faith that I can't imagine that I could possibly add even half of a quotation mark to all of these writers' great works, but I just have to comment a bit.
The church celebrates St. Paul's feast day on June 29th, but January 25th holds an awesome feast for him as well: the feast of his conversion. I LOVE this!!
I have always loved St. Paul. Really, what's not to love? Well, that is unless you count his years of persecuting Christians. Still, as horrible as it was, it was precisely his treatment of Christ and His Church that brought Paul to his 'Ah Ha' moment when his blinded eyes (spiritually and physically) were opened and the truth was revealed.
Please, if you have never read much about St. Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus, I HIGHLY encourage you to do so.
His story is one of the most perfect examples of what Christ's love can do if we convert our lives completely to Him. Here was a man with an apparent vendetta for Christians; someone who hunted them down in order to do away with them. This man truly hated everything that they stood for. He was greatly feared, and I'll bet that I can safely say that if anyone would have ever been forewarned of his conversion to Christianity, "nary a one" would have believed it. But the Lord knew the truth. He KNEW his heart.
And, in almost fairytale-like fashion involving a horse, a soldier (basically) and a very bright light, the Lord whom he hated completely won his heart.
What does this show? That I am NEVER too far away from God to come home to Him. That no matter what my baggage is or how many times I have chosen other paths leading far away from Him, there is always His plan waiting…His specific plan just for me.
And I am called to be that lamp like Paul was. Now, I haven't heard any rumors that I'll be heading off to Corinth any time soon or anything, but I sure don't have to to make a difference. There is more than enough to do right around here! I need to share the truth about our God who loves us so much that He would give us a leader like St. Paul to inspire us.
Here's a quick little conversion story that I experienced when I was 18, a true event that taught me MANY lessons that day, and one that I will always carry with me.
At that time my sister and I worked at a make-up factory during the summer between semesters in college. My first year I was 18 and distressed to see the very poor morale that existed in the factory. Those working with us came from backgrounds with very low income and virtually no desire to move ahead in their lives. Actually, let me rephrase that. They didn't BELIEVE that they could move on and make it better for themselves. The depression at times on the lines was almost like a fog that floated around the floor.
One day, my sister and I both decided to make a difference. It was time to try to bring hope to these people of God who often appeared almost as mechanical as the machinery they were working with.
At first, we started cracking jokes. We made an effort to get to know individuals and what was going on in their lives. I learned many things that broke my heart as well as gladdened it. There were others on the floor that were joy-filled as well but felt squashed by the oppressiveness on the floor, and these beautiful people became lights to us during our long shifts.
As we got to know them, my sister and I started throwing out questions about God to test the waters. To my absolute surprise, there were very few wishy-washy responses. Instead, strong opinions about God were expressed, both for and against. It was amazing! Eventually, there were some shifts that would fly by all of us on a line because we were so deeply immersed in discussion about God, Jesus, Mary and the Saints.
I kid you not that I will NEVER forget some of those conversations.
Conversions of hearts to God began to occur around cherry-flavored chapstick and highly scented perfume bottles. It was truly awesome, and I couldn't believe that God was allowing me to be a part of it. But, there were also those with hardened hearts impossible to crack, at least for me to, that is.
One woman in particular carried around an obvious chip on her shoulder. During the first conversation I had with her, I knew instantly that she didn't like me. I hadn't even talked about God yet to her but she didn't like the change that was coming over the people on the floor. She wanted everyone to be as miserable as she was, and because she was one of the leaders, she had the power to inflict that upon all of us. There were times when I was VERY angry with her treatment of people, and I had to go to confession to deal with those thoughts. But, God was also making it very clear that I had to love her anyway and to look at her for what she was: someone who was deeply suffering.
Then, one day I had to work next to her. I tried to be cheerful but she was making it about impossible.
Suddenly, out of the blue, she asked,"How do you do it?"
I looked her completely confused. "I'm sorry…how do I do what?" I responded.
"I don't understand how you and your sister are always happy. Life is not all happy joy-joy. You have been through things too but you always come in joking around," she explained without a hint of resentment.
The look on her face sort of took my breath away. The normal scowl was gone and there was just this expectant look as if she thought I might have some kind of magic words that would make her life better.
INSTANTLY I knew God had ordained this moment. No, I didn't have any magic words, but God did. I took a deep breath and began explaining that my faith was what gave me joy. We talked about how only God can take away the deep pain that this world inflicts upon us.
Actually, we talked a long time. She had many questions, but revealed almost nothing about her personal life, which was quite incredible given the conversation.
That day was a Friday. On Monday I returned to work, saw my assignment and scooted over to the line. I had barely reached the line when I was engulfed in a huge hug. My eyes were as big as saucers when the hugger let go and I realized that it was her. As I looked at her face I realized that she was crying. I started to say something but was cut short as she began laughing through the tears . Through these tears and laughter she explained that she had not been to church in 20 years but after our discussion had decided to try it that past weekend.
Her exact words were, "As soon as I entered the church, I knew I was home and that everything would be alright." She said that her life would forever be changed.
Now, I am not a crier, but I shed some tears. I just couldn't believe that God would let me witness such a conversion. And honestly, it changed my life.
I hope that this story gives you hope. There are Sauls of Tarsus all around us. Many of them are just waiting for that seed to be planted and we may never see conversion occur here on this earth. But we must plant the seed and trust in God.
It could be that the Lord Himself will present that moment of conversion, but it could also be that He is waiting for us to be St. Paul to another Saul….let's do our best to help to begin turning the pages for them to help bring that fairytale moment to life!!
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