We all know of Paul’s encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and how that encounter radically changed his life. The man who was so zealous in his persecution of the early church became the apostle proclaiming Christ to the Gentiles. But do we truly realize how much that conversion cost Paul himself? The second reading for today (Romans 9:1-5 – one of Paul’s later writings) gives us, I believe, a glimpse into the lifelong deep pain that Paul endured. “…I have great sorrow and constant anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.” Paul carries both the pain of seeing so many of his people – the Jewish people – not wanting to recognize Jesus as the Messiah and he also carries the pain of himself (by his conversion) being cut off from the very people he loves and so identifies with! The man carried heartbreak just as he proclaimed Christ as Savior to the world.
What gave Paul the strength and the endurance to do this? I think the answer is given in the first part of the reading. “I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness…” A conscience that is grounded in Christ gives a strength of endurance that no worldly pain or struggle can overcome. Paul witnesses to this.
Do we recognize the strength, endurance and hope that can only come from a conscience that is grounded in God? In the first reading (1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a), God reveals himself to Elijah not in the heavy wind, the earthquake or the roaring fire but in the “tiny whispering sound.” It is in that tiny sound that God reveals himself and that the prophet covers his face in reverence and awe. The tiny whispering sound of a conscience grounded in Christ is a holy reality that must be held in reverence and awe. The prophets and saints teach this. Throughout history the might and roar of all forms of oppression have themselves been shattered on the quiet strength and endurance of consciences grounded in Christ. The saints witness this time and time again.
In the storms of life when all seems uncertain and nothing appears stable, it is Christ who is shown to be the true still point and even the roar and tumult of the storm cannot overcome the conscience that is fixed on him. Peter walked on water, even as the storm thrashed around him and the boat with those within was tossed about, as long as he kept his eyes fixed on Christ. (Mt. 14:22-33)
The readings are clear – do not dismiss the strength, the endurance, the hope that is found in the conscience grounded in Christ.
“I speak the truth in Christ, I do not lie; my conscience joins with the Holy Spirit in bearing me witness…”