Friday, 3rd Week of Easter
Saint John Paul II Seminary
April 23, 2021
The Conversion of St. Paul and the Eucharist
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounts the conversion of St. Paul. Saul, as he was formerly known, had been persecuting the followers of Christ. This was the reason he was on his way to Damascus. Clearly the Lord had other plans. While he was enroute, Paul encountered Christ. Suddenly he was blinded by the glory of the Risen Lord and stopped in his tracks by the sound of His voice: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” said the Word made flesh, crucified and risen.
From that moment onward, Paul’s entire life was changed. Paul became the Lord’s most ardent follower, an apostle, indeed THE Apostle; a most zealous preacher of the faith, an inspired author of Sacred Scripture whose writings continue to shape the Church’s life. In First Corinthians, St. Paul gave us the earliest account of the institution of the Eucharist, words that confirm the Bread of Life discourse from St. John proclaimed this morning. What do these two powerful Scripture readings say to you who are on the path of priestly formation? Perhaps two very simple messages: the need for ongoing conversion and the centrality of the Eucharist.
Formation as Ongoing Conversion
First, the need for ongoing conversion. Reading the account of St. Paul’s spectacular conversion, we may think that it was “one and done” – over in a heartbeat, so to speak. Yet, the deeper we delve into St. Paul’s writings, the more we realize that Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ was only the beginning. Once the scales fell from his eyes and he was baptized in the name of the Lord, Paul would spend the rest of his life delving into the mystery of Christ, the mystery which he would proclaim, celebrate, and die for. Along the way, St. Paul was continually transformed.
As you contemplate the long road of priestly formation, you may think of it (as I once did) as a series of stages to be gone through. In a sense, that is only natural as you proceed from one formation year to the next. Yet, as you know so well, it is not just a matter of successfully completing a program. More to the point, it is a matter of encountering the Risen Lord in prayer, of deepening your relationship with the Risen Lord, and growing in the likeness of the One whom, God willing, you will one day proclaim, celebrate, and give your life for.
The Centrality of the Eucharist
St. Paul encountered the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. I won’t rule out the possibility that someday the Lord may reveal himself to you in an extraordinary way. But the principal way in which you and I encounter the Lord is through the Eucharist. The Church’s Eucharistic faith teaches us that the Risen Lord is no less present to us in the Eucharist than in his appearance to St. Paul as he travelled towards Damascus. In the Eucharist, the Lord gives us his Flesh to eat and his Blood to drink.
Central to the life of every Christian is the Eucharist. Central to your formation as future priests is the Eucharist. By devoutly entering into the celebration of Holy Mass, and spending that all-important time adoring the Eucharistic Lord, you grow in the likeness of Christ who gave his life for us. As your friendship with the Eucharistic Lord deepens, you learn to discern his voice as the One voice speaking on every page of Scripture and in your inmost being and your outward behavior, you come to resemble the Eucharistic Lord whom you receive and adore. Nothing is more important for a future priest.
And nothing is more important for every priest, including an older priest like me. The hour I spend each morning before the Bl. Sacrament is the best hour of the day. The Venerable Fulton Sheen used to call his holy hour, ‘the hour that makes my day!’ And it’s true. In those moments of prayer, the Lord’s heart speaks to mine. I undergo continual conversion. I am renewed in my ministry. I pray for others. Most of all, I am drawn into the loving heart of the Eucharistic Lord and am connected to him as ‘a branch to the vine’.
May your formation be an experience of ongoing conversion and may the Eucharist be the source and summit of your life, now and always! God bless you and keep you always in his love!