Saturday, June 27, 2009

Year of St. Paul Coming to a Close

(The Year of St. Paul is coming to a close. To mark its passing, I am reposting an article that ran last October/November in diocesan papers.)
There are a lot of us, and our stories fascinate you. Sometimes, the stories are so compelling that we almost achieve celebrity status. But we are not celebrities. Being a convert to the Catholic Church simply means we said yes to grace. A few of us had St. Paul-style conversions, the kind that knock you over and render you blind for a bit. The rest of us just came around to the truth slowly and methodically, and we found ourselves in a Rite of Christian Initiation (RCIA) class without being sure how it all began.

In this Year of St. Paul, we must remember that it wasn’t St. Paul’s conversion story that turned the world upside down, though it certainly surprised those he had persecuted and outraged old friends. St. Paul was more concerned with living the faith, keeping the faith, and dying in the faith. With great humility, this servant of the Lord writes, It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it . . . forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:12-13).

St. Paul understood that conversion was only the beginning. To him, it was a sobering reality that he must continue to run the race with a focus on what lies ahead and not behind. What does forward-focused Christianity look like and how does a new convert move beyond the joy of that initial conversion to lay hold of what lies ahead?

The answer is found in St. Paul’s writings.

It was not enough to be converted. It was not enough to be beaten and imprisoned and stoned. It was not enough to be shipwrecked or tossed out of one city gate after another. St. Paul knew that he must not only run the race well. He must finish the race well.

In the early 1990s, I lived north of Atlanta, Georgia. One evening, our family visited the home of a parishioner who had worked as an executive producer at Turner Broadcasting System. Ira gave us a tour of his beautiful house. I was surprised to see a number of Oscars lined up on one shelf in his office and asked him if they were real. He nodded, and I told him that I was impressed. He said, “Don’t be.” And then he explained that, in his business, one was always working on the next thing, not looking back. I was intrigued by his humility and impressed by his tenacity.

If one can be tenacious for the things of this world, why not be consumed with the work of the Kingdom of God. That’s what St. Paul would say. Fight the good fight. Run the race. And win the prize.

The Church needs lectors, cantors, cleaners, quilters and intercessors. She needs people who visit the sick and volunteer at the women’s shelter and coach the parish athletic teams. She needs artists and writers, speakers and architects. She needs those who have great intelligence, great creativity, and great hospitality. There is a job description that fits your talents perfectly.

I am blessed to be a part of this network of Gospel living. Sure, conversion stories are great. They inspire cradle Catholics who find it exciting that God is still calling people to conversion. But there is more.

Without a doubt, the best conversion story is the one that keeps going and growing long after the first conversion. And I’ll be honest with you. The work that comes after that first conversion is more exhausting and demanding, because few see it, even fewer affirm it, and almost nobody applauds. Even so, let us run the race as St. Paul did. Moreover, let us finish the race as St. Paul did!

For the grace to finish the race well, St. Paul, pray for us!


No comments:

Post a Comment