Man on a Mission: Weekly Message for 01-25-2022

Dear Friends in Christ,

Today we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul, a moment when he began to realize his true mission in life. As young Saul he saw his mission as persecuting the Christians, people who had, in his mind, blasphemed the Law and teachings he had heard since his childhood. The Lord warned us that the disciple was not above the master, which meant that if he had been persecuted, so would we (cf. Matthew 10:24-25; Luke 6:40; John 13:16, 15:20). Saul studied in the school of the Pharisees, so it’s no surprise that there’d be friction with these upstart disciples of Jesus.

Saul, the future Paul, was not as good a disciple as he thought: long after his conversion he mentioned that he’d been taught as a Pharisee by Gamaliel (cf. Acts 22:3), the very teacher of the Law who had told the Sanhedrin to leave the disciples of Jesus alone after the Resurrection, because if his movement did not die out, it was probably from God (cf. Acts 5:33-42). Saul seems to have thought he knew better.

The martyrdom of St. Stephen before Saul’s eyes seemed like the right thing to do, and Saul made it his mission to lock up “the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1). Letters from the high priest in hand, he headed to Damascus authorizing him to continue arresting “any belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2) after persecuting “this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women” (Acts 22:4). The Lord literally knocked him off his feet and blinded him just outside Damascus, but Saul’s encounter with the Risen Lord knocked him off his feet and blinded him spiritually too. 

Someone as zealous as Saul would not have been deterred by being tackled and blinded, but, struck down, he responded to Jesus by calling him “Lord.” We cannot pass this unique grace quickly by; the other apostles were called by the Lord, learned from him, betrayed him, but later received forgiveness and witnessed him Risen. Once Jesus rose from the dead, he only appeared to those who’d believed in him. We venerate St. Paul as an apostle due to his incredible missionary drive after his conversion, but especially because, like the Twelve, he witnessed the Risen Lord. That experience of the Lord, whom he admitted in that moment he didn’t recognize, was what helped him to connect his aspirations, which he translated into a mission, into a realization of his true mission: sharing the Gospel, founding Christian communities, and following “the Way.” Like the other apostles, he’d unknowingly been betraying Our Lord, but when he found out the Lord was his Lord it was an experience of mercy as well as insight.

We’re only a few months into a new liturgical year, and a few weeks into a new year. What is your mission in life? A mission is not just given; it’s also forged by your aspirations. When you’re young, the trap to tune others out and think you’ll figure out life’s path and purpose on your own is seductive, but experience and reality can become a harsh teacher. Some do take in all the teaching and recommendations they can, focused on a goal, but come up feeling empty or frustrated when they try to pursue it. There are many Sauls in the world called to be Pauls, but not quite figuring it out. Take some time to consider your mission and purpose in life. Not your career and how many achievements and toys you can accumulate. Your mission. Some retreats that might help you are:

May the Lord help you in 2022 to discover your mission and purpose in life, as he did for St. Paul.

Father Nikola Derpich, L.C.
Maximizing the Mass

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