The account of Paul’s conversion turns our eye to great figures. Of course, there is Saint Paul, going from sinner to saint, from persecutor to preacher, from murderer to martyr. Also eye-catching is the role of Jesus, blinding Paul with heavenly light, speaking as Paul’s true victim, and infusing powerful graces.
Looking upon these figures, we easily forget a man who was indispensable in Paul’s conversion, that is, Ananias. He is the holy disciple in Damascus who, at God’s command, heals and baptizes Paul. Today let’s contemplate two virtues of Ananias: trust and hiddenness.
Ananias trusts that God will heal Paul through him, and even more, he trusts that God is not sending him into a trap. At first, Ananias understandably hesitates. Paul was just “breathing threats and murder” (Acts 9:1), but when God assures him that Paul is changed, Ananias goes immediately to heal him. This is an extraordinary trust. To better understand it, think of Isaiah’s prophecy that the “wolf shall dwell with the lamb” (Is 11:6). In a way, God is commanding the lamb, Ananias, to approach and dwell with the wolf, Paul. Wolves eat lambs, just as Paul persecuted Christians. But trusting in God, Ananias boldly goes and calls him, “Brother Saul.”
Ananias also shows us the virtue of hiddenness when, having healed and baptized Paul, he leaves and remains silent. He’s only mentioned once more by Paul, in a retelling of this conversion story. Scripture tells us nothing more. Ananias exits stage right in mid-scene, receiving no ovation, and Paul comes center stage for the rest of the New Testament. Ananias surrenders any claim to man’s praise. “You know Paul? I’m the one who converted him!” is not found on his lips. Rather, as Ananias trusted in God working through him and protecting him from murderous plots, so now Paul multiplies and magnifies these two virtues.
Unknown to most, the Church does venerate Ananias as a saint. The Roman Martyrology lists his feast day as January 25, both linking him to Paul’s conversion and forever hiding him behind today’s feast, the Conversion of Saint Paul. Most likely, you’ll never celebrate the memorial of St. Ananias.
While Ananias’s example of trust and hiddenness speaks to us in different ways, he strikes me as a patron to confessors. Like Ananias, the priest heals the soul, fills it with grace, and then hides—all as an instrument of God’s grace. The very seal of Confession means that priests cannot boast of their greatness as a confessor. Instead, they can simply pray that their penitents become great saints, like St. Paul.
St. John Paul II highlighted this powerful yet hidden ministry of confessors, a ministry that raises up saints. As we celebrate St. Ananias, John Paul II’s words seem all too fitting:
I also wish to pay homage to the innumerable host of holy and almost always anonymous confessors to whom is owed the salvation of so many souls who have been helped by them in conversion, in the struggle against sin and temptation, in spiritual progress and, in a word, in achieving holiness. I do not hesitate to say that even the great canonized saints are generally the fruit of those confessionals, and not only the saints but also the spiritual patrimony of the Church and the flowering of a civilization permeated with the Christian spirit! Praise then to this silent army of our brothers who have served well and serve each day the cause of reconciliation through the ministry of sacramental penance.
Praise to this silent army of confessors. Praise to St. Ananias. Above all, praise to God, our true hidden healer.
Photo by Tim Marshall