Acts 9:1-20; John 6:52-59
“The Conversion on the Way to Damascus” by Caravaggio
On our spiritual journey from Easter to Pentecost we follow the progress in the growth of the church as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Today we are presented with one of the more memorable incidents that had a huge significance on the growth of the nascent Christian community, namely the conversion of St.Paul as he travels to Damascus. We all know the story of the bright light, the jettisoned rider, the voice and the blindness that followed. In Caravaggio’s painting “The Conversion on the Way to Damascus,” the artist is close to the account in Acts. The horse is there and Saul lies on the ground stunned, his eyes closed as if dazzled by the brightness of God’s light that streams down the white part of the horse onto Saul; but that the light is heavenly is clear only to the believer, for Saul has no halo. The drama is internalized within the mind of Saul. The artist makes religious experience look natural. There is no action, Saul’s splayed hands and discarded sword is frozen; all is stillness. [Perhaps so God can inaugurate the conversion process!]
We have all experienced conversions of one sort or another and of varying intensity. While bright lights, bells or voices are not part of my own conversion experience, they may be for you. But what is certain is that a conversion experience goes beyond merely human endeavor and must come from a contrite heart which responds to God’s mercy. How often the Old Testament prophets seek a contrite and forgiving heart rather than holocausts and burnt offerings! God says let your heart be turned to me. Let me replace your heart of stone with a heart of flesh! And in the New Testament we hear: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
We have finished Lent, that season of grace and renewal; we have celebrated the Great Triduum, a time for a conversion of heart and soul; the recent celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection poises us for the future, rooted in hope. So like Paul we are positioned for a conversion experience of modest or profound proportions. Like Paul we may, in our own time and place, on our own road to Damascus, be “God’s chosen instrument to carry His name forward…”
While there may not be a dramatic light show of divine presence, a spooked mount, or divine voices, the Easter season provides conversion “opportunities;” experiences that can offer a new reference point for self identity –be it the simple experience of a church at prayer across the Triduum, the crowd of ‘one day a year’ church goers on Easter Sunday or the on-going reflection on the post-Easter scripture readings. Even nature, as its springs into springtime allows us to experience the face and the presence of God. Active, repeated, conversion--a daily occurrence-- is a reflection of free choices made to acquire new understanding and a new identity before God; or simply to affirm your present relationship with the Lord and His church.
As Pope Benedict XVI noted: “conversion entails placing oneself humbly at the school of Jesus and walking meekly in his footsteps….In fact the only joy that fills the human heart is that which comes from God: indeed, we stand in need of infinite joy. Neither daily concerns nor life’s difficulties succeed in extinguishing the JOY that is born from friendship with God.”
And conversion is all about FRIENDSHIP with the Lord! Conversion is about familiarity with the Lord. Conversion empowers us to proclaim “Jesus is the Son of God,” as it did Paul.
By John P. Schlegel