Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. It is an event in history that we note in reference to the place it transpired – the Road to Damascus. It is an event that inspired the great Italian artist, Caravaggio to create his masterpiece, The Conversion on the Way to Damascus. The artwork is located in the Cerasi Chapel of the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, in Rome. Across the chapel is a second Caravaggio depicting the Crucifixion of Saint Peter. On the altar between the two is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Annibale Carracci. It is quite the chapel.
Last week in the gospel, John the Baptist pointed out Jesus with the words, “Behold the Lamb of God….” – the same words you will hear today during Mass. In the gospel two people heard those words and were curious, wanted to know more, sensed the call of belonging – and so they followed… loosely at first, perhaps at a bit of a distance, a safe distance. Jesus sees them and speaks to their curiosity: “Come and see.”
Come to Mass and the Eucharist. Come to Bible Study. Come say your prayers, “Come and see.” Life has lots of “come and see” – moments when our curiosity is piqued. When we search and seek.
The first article of the series about St. Francis essentially proposed that what most people think they know about St. Francis of Assisi is a very limited and romanticized version of the “poor man from Assisi.” Such versions often emphasize the Francis who loves animals, who was an ecologist before “ecology” was a word or a concern, and who wrote the “peace prayer.” The first article ended with a challenge: discover the “real” Francis whose story will challenge, inspire, unsettle, amaze, and maybe…. just maybe, change your world.
In the quiet of the morning, I took a moment to ponder the gospel for today. Today is one of those days I wonder why this particular reading – with its start and end – was chosen. No need to link you to today’s readings online, the gospel is only two verses: “Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” (Mark 3:20-21) Of course one could simply open the Bible and pick up the flow of the gospel and understand the context, but… As one who appreciates good story telling, to my mind this is a bit brief.
Today I ran across a practical article on The Franciscan Media site: “Easing a Guilty Conscience” by Dr. Colleen Arnold, MD (a physician, wife, mother and writer from Lexington, Virginia, also holds a master’s degree in pastoral ministry!) Take several minutes and read Dr. Arnold’s insightful words. If you need a “reader’s digest” version to motivate you, she offers that when you are feeling guilty about something – ask yourself four questions:
- Is this my problem? “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” (Mt 7:3).
- Did I do my best? “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).
- How can I fix i? “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control” (2 Tm 1:7).
- What can I learn from it? “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer” (Rom 12:12).
Today the Church offers a Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. Several years ago I came across a well written and thought out post by Julia Smucker. She holds a master’s degree in Systematic Theology from Saint John’s School of Theology in Collegeville, Minnesota. Since being received into the Catholic Church in 2010, she has sought to integrate the gifts of her Mennonite heritage within her newfound ecclesial home. Her commitment to nonviolence has found deep resonance with Catholic teaching on the dignity of all human life.
Today we optionally celebrate the Feast of St. Agnes of Rome, born 291 AD and died a martyr circa 304 AD at the age of 12 or 13. Like many saints of the 3rd century, there are no historical records per se, but only the stories that were told within the Christian community. Those accounts were collected in the 5th century Acts of Saint Agnes.
I have always like numbers. I have always wondered about numbers. Often, we don’t think about them, just using them for their great functional attributes – keeping score, setting goals, etc. But sometimes we should ask how/why numbers are used. For example, why were Levi’s 501s and WD-40 given those names? Levi Strauss lost all of its records in the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. It does not know why 501s are so named. WD-40? It was the name from the product development lab: Water Displacement, 40th formula.
The other day, a friend and colleague forwarded to me an email that she had received containing a wonderful reflection by Fr. John Predmore, S.J., Director of Ignatian Ministries at Boston College High School. The article matched so much of my experience in celebrating the Mass as a priest and in my many years as a lay person at Mass in the years before. A resonance that was only amplified by last week’s leading an RCIA session on “The Mass and Eucharist” during which I talked about full, active, and conscious participation in the Mass. I reached out to Fr. John who graciously gave me permission to post this for your enrichment.
Fr. John wrote: “A deaf priest is part of our Jesuit community and he will say mass for us routinely. Lately as he has been presiding, I have found my mind wandering as I wonder about the mass itself. He is a cheerful guy and very generous, and I am conscious that a life with hearing impairments is certainly a lonely life. I make certain to talk with him each day, I share my homilies with him, and I try to affirm him and tell him that I’m grateful he is with us.”
Today’s liturgical possibilities include an optional memorial for St. Sebastian who is the patron saint of athletes. Relatively little is known about St. Sebastian, a Christian martyr of the 3rd century. It is believed that he was an officer in the imperial bodyguard and Christian, but not openly so. When his faith was discovered the Diocletian, the Roman emperor, sentenced him to death. Sebastian was tied to a tree, executed by archers and left for dead. However, he had not died. He was found alive and nursed back to health. When at last he was able, he publicly announced his faith, denounced Diocletian for his persecution of Christians, and for this was martyred as he was beaten to death by the emperor’s guard. It is his virtues and gifts of strength, stamina, perseverance, courage and justice in the face of adversity and a superior opponent – and yet he gave his all.
The readings from today’s Mass include optional readings in celebration of the saint. The first reading is from the first letter of St. Peter and includes the following admonition:
Always be ready to give an explanation
to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,
but do it with gentleness and reverence (1 Pt 3:15)
Are you ready?