LENTEN MESSAGE 2009
THE CONVERSION OF ST PAUL A PROTOTYPE OF OUR PERSONAL CONVERSION
- Venerable brothers in the Priesthood, dear Deacons, the Religious Men and Women, my dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ. As we celebrate the Pauline Year, I wish to reflect with you on the person of St. Paul as our model in our personal conversion.
- Going through the Acts of the Apostles, 22, 1 – 20; it gives us a summation of the story of Saul thereafter called Paul, a man who totally opposed and persecuted the WAY, how he was struck by the light of Christ to become an ardent proponent of the WAY. The story is an account of Paul’s journey of faith: From being an adversary of the Way to an ally; from being an opponent of the Way to a proponent; from being a persecutor of the Way to become a defender and a Martyr of the Way.
- Paul’s conversion made him become the most travelled preacher, the most eloquent speaker (Eph. 3, 7–12) and the most elaborate author of the New Testament. Paul is an example of what God is able to do in our lives.
- When we look at our selves, we are tempted to think otherwise because we may not have persecuted any believer. Conceivably we may not have killed those who follow the Way nor even opposed to the Gospel.
- But if our conscience is still alive, we shall discover that there is a certain amount of persecution of our sisters and brothers; a certain degree of murder (a degree of diminishing of other people’s dignity); a certain tendency of opposition not only to the Gospel but also to the core values of our life and our faith.
- Mark 1, 15; hastens to underscore that, “the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel”. The invitation calls for conversion, a change of heart (metanoia), a change of perception.
- The goal and meaning of our conversion is to undergo an introspection of our lives – to deliver up all that we are and all that we have to God, so that we may become free of all those preoccupations and subsequently become instruments of God’s love and justice to the world. It means like Paul to deliver up: Our past memories, so that we may be healed from sin and freed from anxiety; Our present, so that we may accomplish the works of holiness (prayer, fasting and almsgiving); Our future, so that we may be guided to fulfill our purpose in the divine plan of God so as to attain that beatific vision of God, (our salvation).
- If Paul’s conversion will be our prototype, then it means that God wants to turn our weakness into His strength; our inadequacy into His sufficiency; our inability into His power, our disrepute into His honour. Scripture says, “His grace is sufficient for us, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2Cor. 12, 9). Further it says, “It is in our weakness that we are strong”, because in our weakness we learn to totally depend on the power of God.
- Therefore, this season of Lent can be an opportunity for each one of us to begin anew, to be transformed, become ardent and fervent instruments of the Lord, i.e. going beyond ourselves, our weaknesses, our mediocrity, our sense of pride, our sinfulness, our anxiety etc. When we become a new creation, our perception will automatically change according to our new paradigm. This will lead to asking valid questions on what we see and experience in our day to day living vis-à-vis scripture.
- When we see in the world today, especially the economic crunch and its effects, retrenchments, hunger, poverty, disease, deaths, hatred, war, corruption etc. it becomes difficult to reconcile the gospel text, when it says, “this is the time of fulfillment. The reign of God is at hand” (Mk. 1, 15). This era ought to be a time when God is recognized, loved and adored by all men and women and as a consequence the world ought to be radiant with justice, peace, goodness and love. Evidence of these values seems to be far fetched, yet the Lord proclaims that the Kingdom is “at hand”. And the question remains – what does Christ mean?
- The “reign of God” this “kingdom” which our Lord proclaimed to be at hand, for which we pray for every day and at least three times a day in the Lord’s Prayer has to be understood to have something to do with overcoming the destruction of evil in ourselves and in the world. Christ came to save and liberate us from evil, to break the hold of evil, to reject injustice and selfishness, to reject vindictiveness and cruelty, to reject spitefulness, egoism, meanness etc.
- We have then to turn ourselves around and set ourselves to the new sphere to which God calls us to. This is what scriptural repentance underscores, not a feeling, not a mere regret, but a turning around of our whole personality and tuning ourselves after the person of Christ. It means reforming ones life after the Gospel as it is now said “walk the talk”.
- Further, it is said that perfection is more of a process of striving than a state to be attained. One’s perfection is therefore measured not by success in attaining a measurable goal but in attitudes constantly changing to ever more perfectly reflecting the mind of God. The challenge to each and every one of us is that we should not be contented with our spiritual goals or exercises but to attain attitudes which constantly reflect the mind of God. Therefore, it goes without saying that prayer, fasting and works of charity become fundamental to our way of life in order to attain those attitudes which reflect the mind of God (Mt 25, 31 – 46; James 1, 22 – 24; and 2, 20).
- I wish you a prayerful Season and the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Mary, the Mother of Sorrows. I impart my Apostolic Blessing on all of you and all those you share with this Lenten Message.
+Dr. Alick Banda
Bishop of Ndola