Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Conversion of St. Paul

Today is the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, an occasion to re-call the call which changes one's life. It is an appropriate occasion for sharing something I have just received from a young Australian friend of mine who has responded to such a call and who has just been accepted to the seminary.
Upon hearing of my acceptance into the seminary I began telling a few of my friends at work about it. Given that I work at a science centre I was expecting a bit of flak, but most folks have been genuinely positive or at least respectful. In recent days however there have been a couple of guys--who I generally get on well with--who have been fairly hostile to the idea (it would seem that they are of the opinion that science and religion are fundamentally opposed). My first response to one of them was fairly diplomatic, though upon receiving an even more provocative e-mail from the other guy I found myself becoming quite angry, though I couldn't pin-point exactly why.

Later that day, I was calling a few old friends to tell them about my upcoming move into the seminary. One of the people I rang had once been my most serious girlfriend, though I haven't had much contact with her of late. We had a brief chat, and it turns out that she had gotten married the previous day (she left for her honeymoon the next morning). I was very happy for her, and the timing seemed an appropriate book-end of sorts to my new direction. Later on I mentally revisited our relationship a bit, and in the context of her marriage it was not long before I had figured why I was so upset with the guys at work, and I have since e-mailed them about it.

In short, the traditional metaphor of "marrying the Church" that is used to describe those entering the priesthood or religious life began to take on a personal relevance. I could see that my current position is in many ways the equivalent of having just become engaged: upon having fallen in love with something that the guys at work clearly lacked any experience of, I have begun preparing to make a life-long commitment (one that is devoted to the service of others).

In reviewing some of the derogatory statements they had made about the Church, I imagined how I might have responded if they had spoken in such a way about my wife-to-be if I had just become engaged. They mightn't like the "fiancé" I have chosen, but I love her damn it, and I was in no mood to politely explain myself to them until they were prepared to act with some basic respect and decency towards me regarding my choice of "life partner".

Anyway, this may help explain my recent sensitivity towards criticism of the Church. I know the human mess is still there, but I've fallen in love, and I thus probably have something of the protective passion that a recently-engaged man would have for his fiancé.
Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, now Brother Simeon of St. Joseph's Abbey down the road from me, writes -- in his book, Love's Sacred Order -- about St. Paul straining his Greek vocabulary "as he looks for new words and generates a wealth of semantic markers to cover the whole arena of 'love' and convey the very particular manner of relationship brought into the world by the mystery of Christ acting within us."
The Church in Paul's vision thus becomes the locus for the fullness of human life transformed by the outpouring into our hearts of divine Charity. The Church, as Lumen Gentium teaches, is truly called to be the redeemed form of the human race, the holy place and house and family where every good thing reaches its full potential by being energized by the creative and recreative power of the Holy Spirit breathed into use by Christ at Pentecost by virtue of his Resurrection. The Church is the living evidence of the ultimate development of the human family according to God's Heart, beyond blood-kinship, beyond tribe, beyond race, nation and all ideology. [57]
My friend has fallen in love, and he is on his way to the altar. I admire him enormously. Join me in prayers on his behalf. He is just what the Church -- and the world the Church exists to sanctify -- needs.

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