We all know this day as the "day that Paul fell off of his horse" when he heard the Voice of Jesus asking why Paul was persecuting Him. Then when Paul realized that he was persecuting Jesus he became a Christian and then the greatest evangelist we've ever had. Well, there is more to the story than that.
As I hear confessions there is one very consistent theme that most people struggle with. We (and I am part of this group too) all tend to struggle with the same sin over and over again. It seems that each and every time we go to confession we are saying, "Yup, did it again." While each of us has a different "it" a different sin that we are constantly struggling with we all have at least one sin that we can't quite stop committing.
St. Paul was no different!
I often think that we need to change our imagination about what things like "conversion" or "discipleship" or "holiness" look like. So frequently we think that conversion is a drastic once-in-a-lifetime experience that changes us so completely that we spend the rest of our years almost untroubled by sin and the "same old stuff" of life.
The story of St. Paul's conversion is drastic and life changing but it is also ongoing and very normal. St. Paul wrote this in his Second Letter to the Corinthians chapter 12 verses 6-10, "A thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me."
This is the real story of St. Paul's conversion. Yes, his life changed when he first encountered the Lord but his struggle for holiness is ongoing and never ending. This is what conversion is really about. Rarely does a conversion moment mean much apart from an ongoing struggle with sin and weakness.
Yet, this is exactly the point! This is what Jesus has planned for all of us. Conversion isn't overcoming weakness but rather learning how to be weak.
Jesus responded to Paul with these words, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."
The only way that we can come to know the power of Jesus Christ is through our own weaknesses. The only was that we can be changed by the power of Jesus Christ is through our own weaknesses.
But here's where we need to reimagine what conversion and holiness looks like. Jesus' power isn't made perfect when we overcome our weaknesses and sins. No! Jesus' power is made perfect when we are weak, when we experience weakness, and when we learn how to be weak.
When St. Paul finally figured this out (after begging Jesus 3 times to remove his "thorn in the flesh") he said this, "I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses... for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, them I am strong."
Please, hear and understand Paul's insight. His strength, the strength of Christ, doesn't show up after He overcomes his weakness but rather Paul's weakness is necessary for Christ to be strong. Our weaknesses and sins are needed and necessary for Christ to be strong. Christ can't be strong in our lives apart from our weaknesses.
So next time you examine your conscience and see that, yes, "you did it again" take comfort. St. Paul found out that conversion isn't about perfection. Rather conversion is about weakness. The more that we learn what our weaknesses are and the more that we learn to be honest about them the more that we give Christ permission to be strong in our lives.
|Fr. Augustine Francis Donegan TOR|
In the words of Fr. Augustine TOR, who was my spiritual director when I was in college, "Peter, your last temptation will come two minutes after you're dead!"
Fr. Gus (as we all called him) said that with a broad smile and twinkle in his eye that made it clear that he knew what he was talking about.
This is what the strength of Christ looks like. This is what the conversion of St. Paul is really about.