This Friday,January 25th. is the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. If I were to say that I had a few favorite story's in the New Testament this would certainly be among them. I say it's special because I believe it is particularly relevant for this generation in the Church.
Clearly, St. Paul is a devout and religious man at this point in his life. In his own telling of his encounter with Christ, his conversion, as recorded in Acts Ch. 22, Paul describes himself as a devout Jew, zealous for God, and trying to crush these followers of Jesus. "And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' Paul was about to be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Blinded by the vision of the glorious Christ, Paul is brought to a devout follower named Ananias. In the Acts Ch. 9, account of this event, Ananias is told by the Lord, to go and pray over Paul. Here, there is this delightful, even humorous exchange between Ananias and the Lord. (Are you sure, Lord, one might imagine him saying), "I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem.....". Assured by the Lord, Ananias goes to Paul. "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit."
This is Paul's Pentecost experience. In his prayer for the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII, prayed that all the Church would experience a new Pentecost. "Renew your wonders in our day, as by a new Pentecost ...... Come Holy Spirit in your power and might to renew the face of the earth." As I mentioned in my introduction to this blog, there followed in the 60's and 70's through various movements, what has become known as the Grace of Renewal, a grace which I experienced in a most dramatic way in 1971 and which has defined my faith life to this day.
Certainly, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal is one place where this grace is central to its experience. But it raises the question of how this experience of grace relates to the Church and the sacraments. Is not a person given the Holy Spirit when they are baptized? How are we to understand the Grace of Renewal in light of our baptism, and the other sacraments as well?
I found this connection described clearly by Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation, Catechisi Tradendae, Catechesis In Our Time. He is following up on Pope Paul VI's document on Evangelization. We see two stages at work, the first stage is evangelization where one receives a personal faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The second is catechesis where this personal faith matures and developes in the community of the Church. Here in paragraph #19, Pope John Paul II writes the following;
- 19. The specific character of catechesis, as distinct from the initial conversion - bringing proclamation of the Gospel, has the twofold objective of maturing the initial faith and of educating the true disciple of Christ by means of a deeper and more systematic knowledge of the person and the message of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- This means that "catechesis" must often concern itself not only with nourishing and teaching the faith, but also with arousing it unceasingly with the help of grace, with opening the heart, with converting, and with preparing total adherence to Jesus Christ on the part of those who are still on the threshold of faith. This concern will in part decide the tone, the language and the method of catechesis.