Today is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Take the opportunity to reflect on where you need to seek conversion in your own life and heart.
There is a little white church, which sits on the crest of a hill, at the cross roads of several lazy highways, surrounded by centuries of gravestones. It has plain white-washed sides, a little steeple, and a gravel parking lot. It is dedicated to St. Joseph. When I lived near it, I would go there for Sunday Mass — but now that I’ve moved away, I only go when I want to make mass during the work day.
I never liked it much, though it is a lovely church. There were mostly elderly couples in the church–I never saw someone my own age–wealthy, comfortable, gracious, but formal.
There were only two priests: One was mid-fifties, with a broad smile; he never really said anything substantial, though he was nice enough. The other priest seemed much older. Grey hair, and lots of wrinkles; he walked with a slight limp. He gave two sentence homilies, and seemed almost nonchalant about the form of the Mass. He rarely raised the host during the consecration. He never distributed communion. I would kneel there in the pew, and clench my jaw and meditate on the sad state of priests in this country, angry at him for not seeming to care.
It was only later that I realized he was crippled. I went there for the first time in probably a year, and he was saying Mass. I was late, and he was already reading the gospel. I rolled my eyes, because he was reading the Gospel from the altar. He hardly moved the entire mass. And then, after the final blessing, this poor priest walked as slowly and difficultly as you can imagine, down the one step, and through the side door to the sacristy. Though it was five or six steps for a normal man, it took him a full two minutes to make the journey, and it suddenly dawned on me that he wasn’t lazy: he was ill.
The entire congregation, usually so quick to leave after the final blessings, stood still, respectfully waiting for him to leave the altar, and I was deeply shamed. Here was a man of God, and I was slandering him in my mind. A man of God, who had to overcome severe difficulties every day to serve his parish, and do God’s work, and I was judging him. Pride, and vanity, and anger, and sadness all mixed up in my mind, because of one crippled priest.
That was a few months ago. I still rarely go to St. Joseph’s. But today I ventured back, for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The reading is, of course, the account in Acts of that dramatic scene on the Road to Damascus. But we don’t need to fall off a horse to know that Christ’s words to Saul are words for all of us, if we dare to listen: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Margaret Perry is a writer and restaurant manager based in Virginia. She (sporadically) writes about children’s books for The Catholic Information Center, and her work has appeared in First Things. This post originally appeared on her blog Ten Thousand Places. She also makes jam.
Comment below with your thoughts:
Where do you have opportunities for conversion in your life? Are you persecuting anyone in your thoughts, words, or actions? How can you be more merciful in those thoughts, words, or actions?
or, simply answer:
Did you pray today?