Emmitsburg Council of Churches

A Killer Conversion into Saint

Father John J. Lombardi

Persecutor to Pilgrim. Sinner to saint. Zealot to Zealous soul of the Savior

That is the life of St Paul.

He once said: "I live no longer I but Christ within me" ( Gal. 2:20). That is the key to Christian life: allowing Jesus to live in us, and thru and with us­in all our thoughts, words and deeds. Earthy ego gives way to Emmanuel Lord Jesus. Sin gives way to Savior. Sensuality allows saving grace to transform it. Human person is transformed into a holy person of the Trinity. Disharmony is deified, divinity diffuses disgrace.

This weekend we uniquely celebrate the Conversion of St Paul, and thru June, The Year of St Paul. He is Christianity’s greatest evangelist and convert!

Before anything else, let’s remember conversion means, from the Greek word, metanoia­ change of heart and mind. As Christians we need to work with God’s Grace to change our sinful hearts and minds. It was Grace­God’s Life of Favor­that magnificently changed St Paul. Read Acts. Ch. 22, which describes his conversion, the feeling of persecution that Jesus felt because of Paul’s actions, and how Jesus and also Christians were present at the death of St Stephen, the First Martyr of Christianity. Yet he converted, persevered and travelled thousands of miles and endured all kinds of persecutions and trials to proclaim the Lord Jesus to pagans and secularists, barbarians and philosophers, seekers and lukewarm Christians. Paul became like Jesus Himself, all things to all people. He was both a mystic (having some direct experience of God­what we are all called to­cf. II Cor. 3:18) and he was a missionary. If Christianity isn’t both of these then it is nothing, and it will fade.

What are some conversion areas in our lives today that we need to make?

Pro-Life: Abortion is our greatest threat in this country. Last Thursday thousands of pilgrims marched in Washington DC to protect and promote pre-born life that is threatened by abortion. Each day some 4,000babies are aborted, including some 1,200 African Americans. This is a travesty and we need conversion! While on pilgrimage in India one of my biggest lessons­after seeing hundreds of babies saved from the streets, working with tuberculosis patients, disabled and elderly. We learned the sanctity of life from them, no matter how disfigured or contorted, and we saw a lot. Every human being is a gift of God, and yet as Mother Teresa said, if the mother can kill her child then anyone can kill anyone else, chaos is justified. President Obama has just signed law for tax monies to fund abortions overseas. Americans export abortion, how dreadful and despicable.

And possibly forthcoming in Congress is FOCA , the Freedom Of Choice Act ,which would greatly and gravely threaten more abortions, loss of parental notification, tax monies for abortion here and overseas, coercion of institutions to perform abortions, as well as allow partial birth abortions which really is infanticide. Convert now. Believe that God created every person just as Adam and Eve for good and holiness and that all life is sacred! (P.S. While leaving the March in Washington our van got a flat tire. We were trying to get the jack out of the car and couldn’t. Along comes a street guy, Malcom, who had only one eye. He offered to help us among all the mayhem. He finally got the jack out and we eventually made it home, after praying for him and giving him a tip! Reminded me of Calcutta and Jesus in His distressing disguises!)

Fear of proclaiming Christ: While in Calcutta we witnessed direct reporting and photographs of persecution by Hindus of Catholics and Christians in Orrisa State. We saw pictures of desecrated tabernacles and statues, burned houses and crying refugees from the persecution-- because they were Catholics. People need Christ more than ever and yet so many are afraid to proclaim Christ as Savior. Because of relativism, (there are no absolutes), or religious indifference, (all religions are the same-"teach tolerance"), many Christians are fearful of making Christ the center of their lives and introducing Him to others. Two P’s must go together here: Preaching and Prudence. Obviously to your boss or others you must use wisdom and discretion in mentioning the C-word­Christ; we need to discern and be wise. However, this should not bar us from ever using His Name and introducing others to Him. Don’t take this to the extreme, be converted yourself and let Him, Christ, flow from you as St Francis of Assisi said: use words if necessary.

St Paul was a fearless preacher of Christ. So how can you proclaim Him in your workplace, home and daily activities?

Pornography: while in India for two whole weeks I did not see one instance of pornography or ill clad dressed persons. In their still traditional Indian society modesty and elegance is protected and promoted. I became respectful of the many ladies dressed in beautiful saris (wrap around dresses often clad with colorful appointment and sometimes with veils, elegantly flowing) and men in appropriate outfits­all these that befit the human body and rather than downplaying the body they praised it. In our American TV, print and computer culture there is so much disgrace of sensuality and so many being captivated by it we need a whole scale conversion. The more you are he more pornography surrounds you the more it swallows you.

Materialism: Another lesson of my pilgrimage to India is simple but profound­that we are surrounded by so much, seduced by a lot, and then swallowed up by it. Huh? We think we need possessions, gadgets and new gods to fulfill our lives and then become intoxicated by all this before we know it because we do not limit what we immerse ourselves in. A strange thing happened on the Way to Heaven. While in India, we witnessed beggars without arms or legs, persons with leprosy who stood up to greet us with glee, people washing themselves on the streets (in prudence), others living on the streets out of boxes with tin roofs, mothers carrying their children begging, many middle class people living in sparse simplicity without cars or TVs’ or modern conveniences, religious houses without modern bathrooms or hot water, many folks making a living selling rice or tire rims or vegetables or newspapers, all of these with so very little yet often with smiles and laughter. What made them happy? Interaction with others and their adaption to simple ways without complication. We in the West have so much yet are often unhappy, and usually seeking more happiness thru the next new thing. We need conversion: namely by limiting the surrounding of what we think we need; purifying the seduction of what is around us; and thereby not being swallowed up in false illusions of possessions. Less is more and the more we make the less useful the more the less means to us. Think about it. And do it­you don’t have to go to India.

Personal Lifestyle: When I got back from my pilgrimage to India, I thought: What good is it to travel so far and see such dramatic, excruciating sights--acres of shantytowns of poverty, children naked on streets and living next to trash dumps; train stations filled with beggars and opportunists; schoolchildren without proper clothing or materials; workers carrying a dozen bricks or water jugs or sacks of rice on their heads; construction workers operating with primitive equipment; bony beggars pleading for food and mercy buses teeming to bustling-overcrowded with passengers; the daily "ordered chaos" that is Calcutta on the streets and markets, and then come back from all this as the same person, and miss opportunities for conversion here in my personal life? Answer: No good at all. We all must undergo conversion in our personal lives. Become more patient. Live more holy lives. Help others. Stop sinning by wrongful thoughts. I need to take the simple, concrete, hardly-dramatic steps now to become holy right here and now.

Religious Persecutors today: Many Islamic and Hindu fundamentalists throughout the world are killing and harming others. St Paul once did this in his unreasonable, crazed zealotry. Let us pray that Paul intercede to help those who commit evil in the name of religion­including the Jangaweed in Darfur-Sudan; those in the Congo murdering Catholics; in China persecuting our Church; in the Middle East who do not allow religious freedom; the Tamil tigers in Sri Lanka, and so many others to, repent and stop the darkness.

Remember: our conversion is not only about following laws and statutes but also about a Love Relationship. Pope Benedict said Christianity is about an Event-Encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. So be born again!

So: What do you need conversion from?

How can you undergo this conversion to Christ thru a personal program of change and love? St Paul did, why not you?

One last point. I met some folks at the Grotto who came from Omaha, Nebraska. They travelled 22 hours to walk in the Respect Life March, twenty-two hours. I rolled out of bed and travelled one hour for the march. That Nebesakan heroic example helped me to undergo conversion, to keep marching!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi