By Deacon Louis S. Malfara
Special to The CS&T
For many years, the cement front steps, the sidewalk and the landing in front of my house were in constant disrepair. Every spring I got my patching cement and trowel and fixed all the little areas that had eroded throughout the winter months.
One of my sons, who worked part-time for a landscaper said, “Dad, why don’t we renovate your front once and for all? It’s becoming an unsightly mess.” I replied, “What do you have in mind?” His plan was to get his six brothers and sisters together for a weekend, and with the help of his boss, a professional landscaper, they would “EP Henry” the entire front.
The completed project is now 10 years old and I still marvel at its transformation. It’s in this sense that I understand the conversion of St. Paul. When St. Paul experienced his startling vision of Christ, he was transformed into the person that Christ wanted him to become. Christ didn’t just patch him up here and there on the surface of things. Christ touched the very center of his being. St. Paul would never to be the same.
What is this conversion? The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes conversion as a reorientation or a radical turning toward God. St. Paul was now facing in a new direction. But he was not just turned toward God, he was also moving toward him.
With great wisdom the Church teaches that “Christ’s call to conversion continues to resound in the lives of Christians,” and that “conversion is the uninterrupted task for the whole Church.” The change in St. Paul was a work in progress during his entire life. It required St. Paul’s cooperation and it took a great deal of effort. The wine of Christ’s presence needed new wine skins because the old could not contain the new.
It is the same way with us when we let Christ begin to work in us. St. Paul describes it this way, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). It is the work of grace.
So often we are afraid to change and this fear blocks God’s healing touch within us. Admittedly, the prospect of change can be threatening. But St. Paul’s personality did not change. He was still the same person, but just a better version of himself. He was now able to recognize his sinfulness and to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with the God who loved him so much.
By St. Paul’s conversion, Christ convinces us that we too can be transformed into Christ’s vision for us – if we want it. We do not have to settle for patches here and there that just barely keep us going at an arm’s length from God.
We don’t need an EP Henry catalogue to be transformed. All we need to do is say “yes” to Christ.
Permanent deacon Louis Malfara is director of parish ministry at St. William Parish in Philadelphia.