Conversion of St. Paul serves as example for us today, says bishop
GREEN BAY - The importance of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Jan. 25, was heightened during this "Year of St. Paul," June 28, 2008, to June 29, 2009, as declared by Pope Benedict XVI.
Faithful of the Diocese of Green Bay gathered for Mass on Sunday afternoon at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral to honor this once opponent of the church who Jesus apprehended on the road to Damascus.
"We have not had a chance to do too much with this beautiful year dedicated to St. Paul," said Bishop David Ricken opening his homily," because somehow this year you got a new bishop, and we didn't have a whole lot of time for this special celebration. It's a beautiful way that we can set apart this day to honor him, to reflect on his great role in the church, his tremendous inspiration to people of faith, and to call us to be more authentically Christian, authentically committed to Jesus Christ."
Delores Treglwnew of St. Isidore Parish in Tisch Mills greets Bishop David Ricken following a “Year of St. Paul” Mass celebrated Jan. 25 at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. (Rick Evans photo)
Bishop Ricken shared excerpts from a homily preached around 400 AD by St. John Chrysostom in praise of St. Paul. St. John Chrysostom spoke about how Paul aimed higher each day with eagerness to face the dangers that threatened him. In the words of St. Paul, "I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead."
"When we are asked to make sacrifices, when we are humiliated because of the Gospel, when we are humiliated for witnessing to Jesus Christ, when we are asked to stand up for our faith, to come to this Mass today, is it something we rejoice in or is it something we grumble about?" asked Bishop Ricken. "Whatever (Paul) did, he did it with his whole personality, with all his passion and might, totally committed to Christ."
Bishop Ricken praised Paul's triumphs amid abuse. He found victory in the attacks in response to his preaching. His only fear was offending God.
"Brothers and sisters, we live in a culture of comfort," said Bishop Ricken. "We don't like to be put out. We don't like to have any extra tugs or sacrifices. We don't like embarrassment or shame. This is what Paul leaned into in order to win souls for Christ. No punishment, embarrassment or torture was ever too great for him to back out. We need to shake ourselves out of the comfortable path."
Paul's conversion is often depicted by a "falling off the horse" experience. It's important to realize the signifcance of this change, said Bishop Ricken.
"His whole personality changed from the inside out," he said. "He experienced the love of Jesus Christ from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. All of life changed for Paul on the way to Damascus."
The bishop challenged the faithful to take action during this year marking the 2,000th anniversary of this saint's birth.
"Our Holy Father is asking us for a rebirth of the church," he said, "even those faithful Catholics to be reconverted in mind and heart to have this passion for Jesus Christ; to meet Jesus Christ and love him as (Paul) did; to laugh in the face of sacrifices, tortures, discomforts, embarrassment and shame."