A horse is never mentioned in any of the accounts of St. Paul's conversion. A light? Yes. Falling to the ground? You bet. Hearing a voice? "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting." (Acts 9:5)
Yet, in so many artistic portrayals of St. Paul's conversion, there is a horse with Paul either dramatically falling from it or already pressed against the ground.
Though technically a diversion from the Scriptural accounts, these images in paint illustrate vividly what Our Blessed Lord does when He comes to each of us: He knocks us down from our preconceptions, our prejudices, our sins, our anger/frustration/sadness/name the emotion so He can pull us up made new in His image and likeness, living in the Truth, and ready to share Him with all we encounter.
Easier said then done, right? This is why we must return to the Scriptural narrative. In his letter to the Galatians (cf. Galatians 1), St. Paul recounts how after his conversion he spent three years in Damascus preaching and praying, and building up the community before he set out on his journeys throughout the Roman Empire preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The journey from Saul to Paul the Apostle did not happen immediately. It, like every true conversion, started with a profound, personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Then, again like every other conversion, it required time, prayer, authentic friendships, and a loving, supportive community before it blossomed into its fullness.
Each of us is called to go from Saul to Paul. Jesus is seeking you zealously. Even if you are from Him, He lovingly awaits the moment He will pour His boundless grace and mercy into your heart. When He does shine His light upon us -- whether it be in the waters of Baptism, in the Sacrament of Confession, in a humble, loving reception of Him in the Eucharist , in the chapel, or, like St. Paul, on our own road to Damascus, whatever that might be -- He won't abandon us. In fact, as He summoned Ananias to Saul, He will put holy, virtuous friends in our lives, He will welcome us into His community, the Church, He will challenge us to work on our hearts, to build meaningful, Christ-centered friendships, to change vices into virtue, to fall madly in love with Him. Then, He will set us loose.
If Jesus hasn't knocked you to the ground with His love yet, He will. Maybe it's time to attend Hoosier Awakening. Maybe it's time to get back to Confession. Maybe it's time to join or go back to a small group Bible study.
Seek God who is seeking you. Persevere. Keep the faith. Christ comes with power then, little by little, He sets about the hard yet wonderful task of making us saints. Then, Someday, each of us, by God's grace, can and will say with St. Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20)
"It's going to more than a quarter mile from the entrance to the altar."
That was my introduction to what Mass with 17,000 Catholic university students from all over the country (and even the world) would be like at SEEK2019, presented by FOCUS.
The scale of a conference like SEEK -- 17,000+ people, 90+ students from my own campus, 500 priests, thousands of Confessions -- is both remarkable and nearly incomprehensible. At a time when we are constantly being told young people have no time for or interest in God and witnessing so many departures from the faith (especially the Catholic Church), FOCUS continues to grow and our ministry to IU students has increased almost exponentially the last few years. Moreover, the sheer scale of SEEK witnesses to the thirst every soul, even those confused, ashamed, and scared, have for God and His Church.
At this year's conference, the tagline was "Encounter Something More." For every attendee, this line had limitless meaning. Encounter something more in the Eucharist... in your campus community ... in God... in Confession... in a conversion of heart and mind... the list goes on.
Therein lies the beauty of the conference and our Catholic faith: God, in His infinitude, has something for each of us uniquely. There is a love, a unique act of love, and it is me. For each of us, no matter where we have been or what we have done, God loves you, embraces you as His beloved, and calls you to more.
On a practical level, this means our response to God's love is as simple and individual as His love is for us. My encounter with something more leads me to more -- one more, in fact. As impressive as the 17,000 is, the Church started with 12. The 12 encountered something more in Christ Jesus then went about sharing it with others, often one at a time.
In Acts 8, Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch along the side of the road reading from the prophet Isaiah. He sits with him, explains to him how all that was prophesied was realized in Jesus Christ, baptizes him, then sends him on his way. That one man went home and converted a nation.
During SEEK, I was truly impressed how, especially at all of the keynote talks, the importance of one-on-one, personal ministry and authentic friendship is the foundation of all we do in mission. We are sent by a person, Jesus Christ, to a person, whoever that may be. It reminds me (as so many things in ministry do) of the priest who told me years ago, "I became a priest to help one person." To college me, it seemed pathetic. To Dominican priest and campus minister me, it seems incredibly ambitious and perfect.
Christ invites us everyday in the Eucharist, in Confession, in prayer, in our every day lives to encounter something more and to share it in an intimate, personal way; just as He has shared Himself with me.
I don't know how SEEK2019 will impact our ministry and our campus. I do know, though, so many of our students have, in fact, encountered more, have done so in a community ready to walk with them, and now have the opportunity to take the next step.
For the one, it was all worth it.
Fr. Patrick is a Dominican priest and the Campus Minister.