You’ve practiced what to do if you should be faced with many an unlikely but critical situation: what if your lunchtime companion starts choking on a piece of food? You know how to do the Heimlich maneuver; What if the fire alarm should suddenly go off in your building? You already have an escape route; if your clothes catch fire, you know to stop, drop and roll—but do you know what to do if you suddenly come face-to-face with God?
Over the last month, we’ve had a number of high-profile God-drills in the Sunday Gospels. It all began with Christmas, when God appeared in the flesh—Mary, Joseph, angels, and shepherds showed us the drill: come, see, and sing “Glory!” Two weeks later, it was the Magi who came upon Him, and they added to the drill: adore Him, open your treasures to Him! A week after that, on the Baptism of the Lord, John and the people at the river were moved to silent attentiveness as they heard the Father introduce Jesus as His beloved Son. At that moment their “drill” was simply to stop, look, and listen: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10).
Today’s encounter—the conversion of St. Paul—comes with an important twist. This energetic ideologue is interrupted while on a quest to make the world a better place by stamping out the spread of Christian believers. When, as Saul, he encounters God, he is totally unprepared, so much so that he is literally blindsided by God!
What is Saul lacking? In all of the previous examples, the ones encountering Christ are seeking Him, expecting Him. They’ve been told to look forward to Him by an angel, a prophesy, or else some sign in the natural world around them. But Saul is not looking for God, he’s looking for men and women to arrest and persecute, certain that God is behind him, not ahead.
Confronted with the brilliance of God’s presence, Saul does indeed stop, drop in his tracks, and perhaps even roll about, blinded by the light. Just as in the case of flaming clothes, doing this is the first step in being saved. These simple reactions place him in the proper posture of humility. Aware now of his own insufficiency, Saul seeks to know God, asking “Who are you, sir?”
From Saul/St. Paul, we can learn how to react to God when He catches us unawares. If we can remain as open as he did, our eyes will indeed be opened by God’s grace acting through his ministers. But is there any hope for modern Sauls? To be sure, this very passage from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9:1–22; 22:3–16) should inspire in us an audacious hope that Jesus burns with so much desire for conversions that He seeks out even those who are least expecting to meet Him. The conversions of many one-time pillars of the abortion movement, such as Norma McCorvey (“Roe” of Roe v. Wade), ex-abortionists Dr. Bernard Nathanson (founder of NARAL) and Dr. John Bruchalski, and former Planned Parenthood workers such as Linda Couri and Abby Johnson are living proof.
But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? (Rom 10:14–15)
Today, people from all over are journeying to the modern Damascus— Washington, DC—to take part in the March for Life. We seek to bind no one in chains, but to free our nation from the blindness of an ongoing persecution of Jesus in the persons of the infants targeted for abortion and their parents coerced into submitting to this horror. Let us not keep God’s Word to ourselves, but speak it to all with a firm hope that God Himself will go the final distance to reach the hearts of those who are persecuting Him. Let us speak His word to those at work, at school, and at home that the light of His truth may banish the blindness that permits abortion. And let us rejoice that Jesus is never far from those who seek His face.
Image: Luca Giordano, The Conversion of St Paul