Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul
January 25th, 2012
“Go out to all the world and tell the Good News!” was selected as the responsorial for the Feast of the Conversion of Paul. For St. Paul, who made a lot of mistakes in his life and who proclaims “We know that all things work for good for those who love God,” (Romans 8.28) there’s no parenthetical exclusion about mistakes, past or present. So, how do our mistakes fit in with working to the good and good news? Recently I was prompted to deeper reflection on this topic because not only did I make a mistake, an error in judgment, but after the first one, I followed up with another one! One would think that after the first one, I “should have known better.”
As I reflected on this in my morning prayer, the story of Jesus healing the two blind men came to mind, particularly that “Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” Yet the recipients “went out and spread word of him through all that land.” (Matthew 9.27-31)
I was trying to imagine the fully human Jesus saying to himself afterwards, “I should have known better.” Somehow it didn’t quite fit. However, I could imagine his only human developing disciples saying something such as, “Those thoughtless guys have jeopardized your whole work in this area. We’ve got to make an example of them or you won’t be able to teach anywhere!”
This healing story in Matthew is followed by another, the healing of a mute, a fact that amazed the crowds who said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “He drives out demons by the prince of demons.” (Matthew 9.33b-34)
As I imagined myself in this gospel story, I began to see Jesus marvelously attending to immediate requests in the midst of continuing to teach the broader message about the Kingdom of God. In his own process of human experience, he was working out the real and potential conflicts between the “how many” and the “who needs?” How others reacted doesn’t appear to have been the issue for Him.
In the light of this Gospel passage, I began to see something in myself that went back as far as I can remember: Whenever anyone has asked me to do something, to “help” in some way, my focus shifts entirely on that request, and if I can help, I do. The plea before me somehow eclipses the bigger picture, even when (in the bigger picture) my helpful response has not been the best choice for myself or for others.
I recalled the responses of others to my errors in judgment: Some have embraced me with compassion, reassuring me that even though I made a mistake, I am not a mistake, now or ever, and I do belong here. Some have remained silent, yet supportive, affirming compatibility in the understanding that this is the route of our human journey. And, a few have pounced on me, as if they were waiting for this opportunity.
If I am open to it, I have discovered that truth erupts boldly within my life experiences, especially in the things I wish I hadn’t done. Whether pleasant or unpleasant, I have seen what really is within myself and another rather than what I have imagined or assumed.
Where am I now, today as I write this? I am a step further into the preposterous place of desiring to praise God with all my heart for my “mistake.” I am moving consciously into that realm because through this event, I have been experiencing a shift, a transformation of a lifetime habit of making choices based on another’s request or needs. Until this recent event, my deeply embedded pattern has obliterated every consideration other than the immediate.
I know that I have been set free, transformed. I am no longer a slave of my lifetime pattern. The valleys of my brain connectors have been exalted through the power of Jesus. Though I fell short, I am truly experiencing once more that all things work to the good for those who love God.
I cannot conclude my story of transformation without also giving credit to my own dear friend, Father Edward Joseph Flanagan. I connect my own experience of “thought transformation” with his great charism of transforming the way society took care of abandoned boys as he worked tirelessly to transform boys one at a time. His legacy of transforming brains definitely includes mine, and this, my friends, is Good News!