Feast of Conversion of St Paul 2012

 Scripture readings for today's Mass are here

A previous post on St Paul is here ( along with St Peter)

The BBC site here has some fine resources on St Paul 

and click here for a splendid radio programme from BBC on St Paul. 

Details below

Melvyn Bragg and guests Helen Bond, John Haldane and John Barclay discuss the influence of St Paul on the early Christian church and on Christian theology generally.
St Paul joined the Christian church in a time of confusion and wonder. Jesus had been crucified and resurrected and the Christians believed they were living at the end of the world. Paul's impact on Christianity is vast: he imposed an identity on the early Christians and a coherent theology that thinkers from St Augustine to Martin Luther have grappled with. Crucially, Paul is responsible for changing Christianity from a Jewish reform movement into a separate and universal religion.

Helen Bond is Senior Lecturer in the New Testament at the University of Edinburgh; John Haldane is Professor of Philosophy at the University of St Andrews; John Barclay is the Lightfoot Professor of Divinity at Durham University.

A Single Stream
Howard Thurman

It is a world-shattering disclosure that the stream of life is a single stream, though it takes various forms as it spills over into time and space.

This disclosure is made to anyone whose discipline sends him on high adventure within his own spirit, his own inner life. 

By prayer, by the deep inward gaze which opens the eyes of the soul to behold the presence of God, a person feels the steady rhythm of life itself. 

We seem to be behind the scene of all persons, things and events. The deep hunger to be understood is at last seen to be one and the same with the hunger to understand.

Source: Inward Outward : The Mood of Christmas

The text below is an edited version of an article by Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.: Full text of article is here in the American Catholic Newsletter.

"When St. Paul experienced the Risen Lord at his conversion, he experienced a Christ who was so identified with us that to persecute the Christians was to persecute Christ. 

Not just once, but three times the experience is described in the Acts of the Apostles. In Chapter Nine we see Saul (not yet "St. Paul") terrorizing the followers of Jesus when suddenly, one day on the road to Damascus, Saul "fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' He said, 'Who are you, sir?' The reply came, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting'" 

Later Paul himself retells the incident: "I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' I replied, 'Who are you, sir?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazarene whom you are persecuting'"  Paul tells the story again in Chapter 26: "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting" 

The experience revealed to Paul that Christ cannot be separated from his members. 

The Risen Lord is so united to the Christian that what we do to one another, we do to Christ.

 Conversion of St Paul from here

This was the very point that was at issue in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 11, the earliest written account we have of the Last Supper. When Paul writes to the Corinthians in about the year 50 A.D., he has some concerns about their "eucharistic devotion":
"In giving this instruction, I do not praise the fact that your meetings are doing more harm than good. First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you, and to a degree I believe it .... When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord's supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk. 

Do you not have houses in which you can eat and drink? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed?"  

Paul reproaches the Corinthians for celebrating the Eucharist without recognizing the Body of Christ in the poor who go hungry while the rich get drunk. 

His criticism of their eucharistic devotion is not directed toward some liturgical rule, toward the songs they were singing, or the vestments they were wearing or not wearing, or whether they received Communion standing up or kneeling down or any of the issues that might disturb some Catholics today. 

The issue was much more important. They were trying to remember Christ without remembering his Body, which includes the poor and the "unacceptable." They wanted to celebrate the "head" without the "body risen and glorified "sacramental" Christ separated from his actual Body now.

Paul's experience at his conversion had convinced him that the Risen Lord is so identified with the disciples that the two cannot be separated.


Praying for The Persecuted image from here

St. Paul tells the Corinthians that they must examine themselves as to which body they are celebrating. 

The Christ they are proclaiming is the Risen Christ, glorified in his members, inseparably united with the poor and suffering. This is the Body they must see in the Eucharist if they are to celebrate worthily, for all who eat and drink without discerning this Body, eat and drink judgment on themselves.

Paul reminds us of an awesome responsibility. Coming forward at Mass to receive holy Communion is a promise that we will treat each person who receives the bread and drinks the cup as a member of our own body! It is no longer "us and them" but "us." Sharing the meal is a promise that we will treat all men and women as Christ would treat them, indeed as we would treat Christ himself.

This is an enormous responsibility and one which I do not think about enough and yet one which has greatly influenced the changes in my eucharistic devotion.

It is easy to lose sight of this relation: Risen Christ - Mystical Body - eucharistic Presence. The Eucharist is not merely a celebration of Real Presence, but a celebration of Real Presence which brings about unity and reconciliation in the whole Body. 

As the early Christians sang at Eucharist: As many grapes are brought together and crushed to make the wine and as many grains of wheat are ground into flour to make the one bread and we, although many, become one Body when we eat the one Bread.

My devotion used to be focused on the first transformation: the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. I had forgotten the warning of St. Paul and did not recognize the second transformation: the transformation of the Christians into Christ. 

This second transformation is the purpose of the first: Christ becomes really present in the Eucharist so that we may really become his Body. This is precisely what Eucharistic Prayer III is saying when it pleads, "Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ."

I think the second transformation is especially hard for Catholics. Our culture places a high value on the individual, on independence and freedom from obligations to one another. 

I hear people saying, "I have to own a gun because no one is going to protect me but me. The police can't even protect themselves." "I work hard for my money. I am not going to let the government take my money and waste it on welfare." 

If a culture is infected with racism or sexism, the Christians who are formed by that culture will find it difficult to express devotion to a Eucharist which proclaims that there is no longer "Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus"

In baptism I renounced "Satan," I renounced racism and sexism and exaggerated individualism and I was born into Christ Jesus. Each time I approach the Eucharist I renew that baptismal promise. As I come to the church for Eucharist, I dip my hand in the baptismal water and renew those baptismal vows.

Each time I get up and go to holy Communion I give a sign to the community that I am committed to all that the Eucharist stands for, I am committed to "do this" in memory of Jesus, to live as He lived, to live no longer for myself but for his Body.

I can't stop halfway: I can't celebrate the transubstantiation of the bread and wine without celebrating Christ's presence in my brothers and sisters. Some Christians still separate the two.

I am reminded of the man who once asked me: "Father, why do I have to shake hands with all those people before holy Communion? I don't know those people; and the ones I know, I don't even like."

I can only say that I am getting a new perspective. I see a new beauty and a new grandeur. It takes a different eye to see my God in the faces of my sisters and brothers with whom I share the broken bread. But there is true beauty there, and I find that beauty can still move me to tears of joy and devotion. 

Today I judge whether a liturgy is "good" or "bad" not by the number of candles that are lit, nor by the cost of the vestments, nor by whether or not I like the singing.

Today a "good" liturgy is one which transforms me and my fellow parishioners in such a way that men and women of today's society will see the full implication of the Sacrament of the Eucharist."

And they will say of us as they said of the first Christians, "See how they love one another! There is no one poor among them!" 


O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. 
Help me in all things to rely on Your Holy will.
In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me. 
Bless my dealings with all who surround me.
Teach me to treat all that come to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Your will governs all.
In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. 
In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You. 
Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.
Give me strength to bear the fatigue of this coming day with all that it shall bring.
Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray You Yourself in me.
(Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow)

One Bread One Body

On this last day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, this is one of the prayers offered for the day to remind us as Christ’s disciples of our call to continue in the quest for the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer, “that they all may be one.”

Lord God, the source of truth and love,
keep us faithful to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship,
united in prayer and the breaking of bread,
and one in joy and simplicity of heart,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

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