According to Luke 5:26, “Then astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, ‘We have seen incredible things today.’” From the onset of Jesus’ ministry the followers of Jesus become astonished at his works. As a perfectionist and control-freak, my natural inclination is to seek regularity and pattern in daily living. While I enjoy reading about sudden plot twists from the comfort of my armchair, I did not handle tons of surprises in my life well.
Most choices I make only occur after being carefully calculated and thought out. Today started no differently. Always planning ahead, I woke up quickly going over the list of my agenda for the day: get breakfast ready for the wife and kids, take my son to school, exercise, take younger kids to library, get more cereal—this perhaps was the most important as to avoid a meltdown from my 4 year old tomorrow morning— and finally drop the kids off at daycare before going to work. WHEW! If I was not already tired I am now after writing that sentence! Hopefully, you have not grown weary yet. My daily routine planted its grip on me which grants me stability, but the downside is I am not as open to wonder and awe as easily.
The paradox with seeking complete control of your life is that anxiety seems to follow close behind. Although I had a productive day errand-wise when it came to writing this article I initially hit a roadblock. Anxiety set in. What to write about? How would I be able to compose engaging material that without being forceful in my thought? The words of St. Paul came to assuage my concerns. He proclaimed, “”Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phillipians 4:6-7). Paul of Tarsus’ conversion story always appealed to me.
Throughout this week I thought a lot about the surprising [and questionable] reasoning of God to select a former mass murderer to serve as his primary evangelizer in the early Church. See the thing about God’s will and plan is that it goes above man’s mere superficial gaze. The God of Paul, the Divine Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a being of great surprises. God surprised me today When I looked up the daily Mass reading for April 17th,[today!] I almost stood up from my desk in awe! The first reading for Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter comes from Acts 7:51-8:1A—the stoning of Stephen. Stephen’s murder represented the height of Saul’s sin. I truly do not believe my ponderings on St. Paul were mere coincidence. God planted a desire in my heart—the same day that the Mass readings were about his past failures!—to look to Paul’s journey toward conversion as a testament of Divine Mercy.
Among the most sinister characters in the New Testament, Saul led the assault against Christians. However, at the end of the Acts of the Apostles the same individual goes by the name Paul, became a household name in the early Church, and preaches through the ancient world the Good News of Jesus Christ. How is that possible? Answer: The God of the Universe loves to surprise. The plot twist involving the former persecutor of Christians is just one example of God’s mysterious, yet amazing plan of salvation.
The pride and self-righteousness of Saul prior to his conversion speaks directly to my own struggles with hubris and judgmental attitude towards others of different backgrounds. Acts 9 contains the conversion story of Saul. Traveling to Damascus, a bright light from the sky blinds him and Saul falls to the ground. Receiving temporary blindness for three days, the Lord moves in the heart of Saul during his period of darkness. After being healed from his blindness, Saul is baptized and takes the new Christian name of Paul—and the rest of the story is history.
Does your own pride cause myopia in your spiritual life? Are you in a place in your life where it would not be a bad thing to be knocked off the high horse of hubris? Have past actions caused innocent people to suffer? These are questions I reflect on today— and need to regularly ponder—as I sojourn through life. Am I currently Paul? Or have I acted like a Saul lately?
St. Maria Faustina detailed this truth about God’s mercy in Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul, “A soul does not benefit as it should from the sacrament of confession if it is not humble. Pride keeps it in darkness. The soul neither knows how, nor is it willing, to probe with precision the depths of its own misery. It puts on a mask and avoids everything that might bring it recovery” (113, page 63). I would not be surprised if the memory of St. Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 acted as a seed planted by the Holy Spirit as the Polish saint wrote these words. God’s write a perfect story with imperfect story. St. Paul is a testament to this fact. I am given hope by learning to trust in God’s surprising and unexpected details in his plan of salvation!