I want to focus my attention today on the first reading of our mass which is taken from the pivotal chapter 9 of the Acts of the Apostle. I say pivotal because this is the chapter where the conversion of Saul/Paul is narrated. Paul is still a very important figure in the life of the church today, how many times do we read in our mass from his letters and many times Pope Francis and indeed St. John Paul II quoted St. Paul. There are 3 lessons from our first reading here today.
- Saul was a terrifying persecutor of the early church; the acts say that he breathed murderous threats against the followers of Jesus. He sets off to persecute the church in Damascus and in chapter 9 we hear about his conversion. The first lesson we can learn from this is never give up. Never think that you can never be forgiven; never think that you are outside the pale. Last week we spoke about the love of the good shepherd for the lost sheep. When we stray from Jesus, Jesus does not let us go, but like a broken-hearted mother or father, searching for a lost child, he searches for us; even though it may take years, he never gives up. Sometimes we feel we are lost causes we tend to run ourselves down. We should never despair. Look at Saul how Christ changed him; if he changed him, a murderous persecutor, he could change us.
- The church was very skeptical of Paul. You can imagine the rumours going around, this guy threw people into jail and now he is preaching in Christ’s name. A lot of people were still afraid of him. Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him up to the apostles. I’ll explain to them. We are never alone. Without Barnabas, Paul would never have become the great apostle of the gentiles. Paul needed Barnabas. There are a lot of people out there who are Barnabas’s in our lives. Just ask yourself who are the Barnabas’s in your life. Also we can be Barnanbas’s in other peoples lives by helping them.
- Paul was a natural debater. Paul preached fearlessly and argued with the Hellenists who tried to kill him. If Paul were alive today, he would use everything at his disposal to defend the faith. We are not meant to keep the faith to ourselves. We should not be afraid to stand up for our faith and our principles.