Friday of the Third Week of Easter

Conversion stories have always interested me because I have often wondered what it takes to get people to change their minds. Perhaps at the conclusion of an academic year and my experience of teaching classes of Freshmen has left me with a somewhat Jansenist opinion of human nature, or at least questioning that aspect of human nature that should desire to compose a correct topic sentence.     Today’s first reading tells the story of the conversion of Paul, which according to the Acts of the Apostles, was quite a dramatic moment. Even though the great Baroque painter Caravaggio has Paul thrown from his horse, no horse is mentioned in the text. Horse or not, the image of Paul being blinded by a flash of light and hearing an accusing voice from heaven seems to have done the trick.  Our portrayal of Paul is of someone who did the proverbial “180 degree” change, a reversal so sudden and dramatic that the scene makes for good theater but not for a helpful example. For me, this story makes more sense if I imagine Paul to be actually attempting to do what he intended to do right before his conversion.  We should not forget that he was a Pharisee who attempted to comply with the traditions of Israel which saw deviations in the covenant as both evidence and cause of spiritual death. His conversion really was not “total” since his fundamental direction was always towards God. In reflecting on this passage, I recall St. Ignatius’ admonition in the Spiritual Exercises to presume a good intention. Digging deep to find the presence of God in other’s intentions can, at times, be quite an excavation project. However, if history provides any insight, we note how famous Jesuits moved people towards God not by argument but by investigation, by investigating and discussing ultimate values and concerns and then moving them towards a more effective way of achieving these values. Although the moment of transformation may come like a bolt from the blue, perhaps the surest method for conversion comes from patience and understanding.

May 5th, 2017