Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

This weekend the first reading at Holy Mass is from the Acts of the Apostles (9:26-31) which we’ve been reading/hearing since Easter.  We will continue having many readings from the Acts for the next few weeks because it gives us the history of the earliest days of the Church after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension (His return to heaven). Today we hear about the plight of Paul. He was a fervent Jew and a zealous enemy of the Church because he believed that Jesus had been a blasphemer, one who said He was the Son of God, but was not.  Paul had been going from place to place arresting followers of Jesus’ Way, dragging them in chains back to Jerusalem for trial and eventual execution. Until, that is, Jesus appeared to him on the road and by means of a few words transformed him miraculously into a believer and a fervent preacher and disciple of Jesus in the fledgling Church!

At this point in the story, Paul has been baptized and anointed in the Holy Spirit, and was now eager to go back to the places where he had terrorized the Christians, to deepen their faith. Here’s what today’s reading says: “When he arrived in Jerusalem…they were all afraid of him, not believing he was a disciple.…  He spoke and debated with the Hellenists [the Greeks] … but they tried to kill him.”  In both cases, he had to be rescued by the disciples in the Church because his life was in danger, and they kept taking him to other places where he might have better luck convincing the people that he was in fact now an ardent follower of Jesus.

As we know, Paul went on to become well known in many areas: Samaria, Greece, Rome, etc. He made converts everywhere, including among the Gentiles, which at first stunned the apostles, until the Holy Spirit convinced them that Jesus had come to save even the Gentiles.

 

Reading the Acts of the Apostles, especially seeing that Paul was seriously misunderstood for some time after his miraculous conversion, reminds me that people can often be judged by their past as though they could never be anything other than what they once were. People say, ‘Once a thief, always a thief.’  Or, ‘You can’t trust a person who says he’s a recovering alcoholic. You just never know…’  It’s hard for people who have sinned or been dishonest or freed from prison to prove themselves.  Sometimes their past life defines them. It seems that we have a hard time believing that people can change. How many times have we done wrong until we found strength in prayer to turn away from an addiction –to food or gambling or gossip—then begun to doubt ourselves, thinking that we will someday give in to the temptation and again become a victim of our own weakness anyway, so why try to be someone we could never be?

This is the story of some people’s lives. Try, fail; try again, fail again; then give up completely. But it’s not the way Jesus sees us. Neither should we see ourselves or others that way. The Mercy of God is boundless. He knows what we are made of, and never gives up on us. Let’s not judge ourselves or others with vengeance. The life of Jesus shows us a different way to live. St. Paul’s experience teaches us that the Grace of God works miracles. We can’t know the heart of everyman, nor can we judge what God can do in one person’s life, even our own.

Do not judge. But if you must judge, judge with the heart

(St. Julie Billiart).

Every saint has a past. And every sinner has a future

(Oscar Wilde).

St. Paul, teach us to see beyond the sinner and believe in the Grace of God.

I vote that we try for a judgment-free week. We will all benefit from that.

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“With Mary, our lives continually proclaim the greatness of the Lord and the joy experienced in rendering service to Him.”

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