Conversion and penance are just as important today as they were in St. Paul’s time. Tonight the Bible opened to Acts and Paul’s speech at his trial:
But now I am standing trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors. Our twelve tribes hope to attain to that promise as they fervently worship God day and night; and on account of this hope I am accused by Jews, O king. Why is it thought unbelievable among you that God raises the dead? I myself once thought that I had to do many things against the name of Jesus the Nazorean, and I did so in Jerusalem. I imprisoned many of the holy ones with the authorization I received from the chief priests, and when they were to be put to death I cast my vote against them. Many times, in synagogue after synagogue, I punished them in an attempt to force them to blaspheme; I was so enraged against them that I pursued them even to foreign cities.
“On one such occasion I was traveling to Damascus with the authorization and commission of the chief priests. At midday, along the way, O king, I saw a light from the sky, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my traveling companions. We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Get up now, and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness of what you have seen [of me] and what you will be shown. I shall deliver you from this people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may obtain forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been consecrated by faith in me.’
“And so, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. On the contrary, first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem and throughout the whole country of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached the need to repent and turn to God, and to do works giving evidence of repentance. That is why the Jews seized me [when I was] in the temple and tried to kill me. But I have enjoyed God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here testifying to small and great alike, saying nothing different from what the prophets and Moses foretold, that the Messiah must suffer and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”
I am struck by how similar Paul’s story and the message he received from Jesus are to the revelation from Our Lady of Fatima 100 years ago. The children at Fatima heard messages of conversion and penance and like Paul spread that message to others. You can read more about that here: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000626_message-fatima_en.html
Paul saw the light, literally. Since I was a child, I have been jealous of Paul because he was shown the light and heard Jesus. (Of course, when I read about his time in prison and his persecution, I get less jealous and more grateful that I am not similarly challenged — and as soon as I type that I am struck by how weak I am. Am I only willing to see God if it is easy? I hope I am stronger than that, but my initial reaction and thoughts seem to indicate otherwise.)
Open my eyes! Provide me with your light and help me to share it with others. Give me the strength to convert fully.
God, I am sorry for my sins. I want to do penance — please show me how. Help me to truly repent for the wrongs that I cause. Help me to sin no more.