January 25, 2016

"...being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." —Philippians 1:6

The conversion of St. Paul is a singular event in which God demonstrated His power to change seemingly hopeless circumstances. Paul was the most unlikely candidate to become a Christian missionary and evangelist. No one would have predicted his change of heart; he was hardened against Christianity, "breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord" and requesting to "bring them back to Jerusalem in chains" (Acts 9:1–2).

But Paul was utterly transformed by God's grace, which interrupted his own plans and called him to something much greater. For most of us, this spiritual transformation is much more gradual and subtle, but the ongoing event of our conversion is no less significant or powerful. We are invited to take part in the greatest human drama of all time: to constantly seek God amid struggle and suffering, and thus to take part in the redemption of humanity, loose the chains that bind us, and enter into full communion with our Creator and Father.

"...while I'm studying, every so often I ask myself: will I continue on the right path? Will I have the strength to persevere all the way? In the face of this pang of doubt, the faith given to me in Baptism reassures me of this: by yourself, you will accomplish nothing, but if you place God at the center of all your actions, then you will reach the goal." —Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati

 

"Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer." —1 Corinthians 12:11–12

We, like Pier Giorgio once did, question whether we are capable of fighting the good fight and seeing it through until the end. But Paul's conversion story teaches us that, ultimately, that power will come from outside ourselves. All we can do is open ourselves up to God's grace and let Him do His work in us. He is capable of breaking through our stubbornness and sin; He is capable of transforming our hearts and opening our eyes to truly see Him.

Pier Giorgio worried whether he would continue on the right path. But let us remember that Paul was walking on a path toward Damascus, on a mission to imprison Christians. He was very much on the wrong path, but that didn't mean that God couldn't work with him right where he was. We don't need to be afraid of the mistakes we might make in the future; we just need to keep moving, keep putting one foot in front of the other. We can ask for God's guidance as we go, and He can help redirect us when we lose our way, but He can only change our direction if we have a direction, if we are journeying somewhere.

We are all hopeless cases, but for the love of God. And we are defined not by our struggles but by our perseverance. Even in the face of overwhelming difficulty and persecution, we can hold fast to the promise that has been given us. We can rejoice in hope even when we doubt our strength to withstand the trials to come, for we know that ultimately we can place our trust not in ourselves but in God.

"I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." —Philippians 4:13
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