Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Journeying to Damascus

Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.  On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?"  He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”  The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one.  Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;* so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.  For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.  -  Acts 9:1-9

I recently attended a Road to Damascus Women's retreat and was amazed by how much more clearly I could see that first, converting vision St Paul had of Christ's Light.  I am no stranger to blindness. I lost a lot of the sight in my left eye when I was nineteen, due to damage that happened to my optic nerve.  Sometimes, when I accidentally spend any length of time outside on a sunny day without sunglasses, I am literally blind for a few minutes upon entering the house or darker area. When it first happened, I was frustrated, afraid, upset, angry....pretty much every emotion simultaneously. But it was also at this time that God began to open my eyes to His vision of the world.  I think this weekend helped me to once again have the scales removed from my eyes and know how much alike we all really are.

We started the retreat by giving up our cell phones and watches-- and, more importantly, control.  As a nanny who constantly juggles schedules and sends millions of emails and texts, I was actually very eager for this part of the retreat. But it was a little scary too.  I have a hard time giving up control, i.e., not keeping track of what I am supposed to be doing next or where I am supposed to be. In the end, this little factor helped me more deeply understand what Saul was going through in those hours and days before Ananias showed up. It allowed me the freedom to let go and be led, while just enjoying every moment I had with our Lord. I am sure it did the same for Saul.
Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio. With permission
from the Caravaggio Foundation, under Creative Commons licensing..

Before the talks began, the image of Caravaggio's famous painting of Saul's conversion was displayed on the projector.  It depicts the moment when Saul was confronted by the Light of Jesus Truth, an experience too much for his eyes to behold. He was rendered blind. Now I have seen this painting of Saul knocked off of his horse before. In fact, I have read a discussion about it, to the effect that nowhere in scripture does it say that Saul was even on a horse. Read the scripture above again-- see, no horse! Yet often this is how Saul is portrayed.  I often get stuck or fixated on little details, but today that wasn't what came to mind.  When I sat there staring at that painting, the term "get off your high horse" came to mind.  Maybe the horse is a representation of Saul's perceived righteousness in his attempt to rid the world of Christians.  I began to think deeper, what is my vision of God?

Maybe I also needed to be knocked off of my 'high horse."  Where am I persecuting Christ? Do I do this by not loving and accepting my brothers and sisters?  Do I set up barriers, out of jealousy or fear, for others who are trying to make Christ known to a world in darkness?  Slowly, Jesus Truth began to open my eyes: to Who He really is and what that means to me and my life; to who I really am in His eyes and how much I mean to Him.
Once I had encountered Jesus Truth, and seen myself the way God sees me-- in Love, despite all of my faults and failings-- it was time to meet Jesus Way, Who calls us all to follow.  This is an area of my personal life where I often struggle.  Lack of self confidence can lead me to think you need to be "good enough" for God, or even make me afraid of what He might ask of me.  We listened to the song "Oceans" by Hillsong, a song I have heard many times before. But just as that painting was so very familiar yet seemed to be new, so was this song.  The song talks about God calling us out onto the water of life, just as Jesus called Peter.  I can really relate to Peter in this passage:

Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus.  But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” - Matthew 14:28-31
I beg God to call me, and as soon as I hear Him I jump right in. But I soon take my eyes off of Him and begin to sink. I begin doubting that I really heard Him. After all, I am nobody special, there are many people more qualified, and I am going to fail Him....  Pride is what made Peter sink, and pride is what makes me sink too. When I start to focus on me, and begin thinking I can/need to do it on my own, that's when I fail. What jumped out at and amazed me about hearing the passage this time was the word "immediately." Immediately after Peter called out to Jesus, He stretched out His hand and caught him.  Immediately!  If I follow Jesus Way, am I called to do that as well?  Am I willing to "immediately" help my brother or sister up without casting judgment or counting the cost? Jesus could have waited a moment or two to teach Peter a lesson, or to get even with him, but He never does. Can I do the same?

16 Lorenzo Veneziano, Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning. 1370 Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
Christ Rescuing Peter from Drowning by Lorenzo Veneziano.
With permission, Staatliche Museen (Berlin) under Creative Commons licensing.
That evening we were led to adoration. It was a beautiful chance to spend time with our Lord and reflect on everything I had experienced thus far.  I thought of those hours Paul spent in darkness, conversing with our Lord. And I thought of the beauty God has shown us in Reconciliation, so that we might do that also.  In Reconciliation God gives us the chance to say, "Jesus, I know I messed up big time, and I struggle not to continue to do so.  I am so sorry, and I will keep trying to do what is right."  And then we hear His response, "Rise and sin no more." I felt so peaceful sitting there visiting with Him, pouring out my heart to Him in adoration. I shared my struggles and asked for His immediate help with them.  I heard Him tell me how much He loves me, and I wholeheartedly offered Him my own little, "I love You too."  Oh what a blessed way to end the evening!

The final talk was on Jesus Life and our call to go forth and share Christ with the world.

So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the holy Spirit.”  Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength. -Acts 9:17-19

Conversion of St Paul by Benjamin West.
With permission from Vanderbilt University
under Creative Commons licensing.
Again, "Immediately" comes out.  The moment the Holy Spirit fills Saul, Jesus immediately draws the scales from His eyes.  How difficult it must have been for Ananias to trust the Lord and help this man who had been persecuting Christians like himself.  Yet he listens, follows and shares, as we are all called to do.  The final presenter read us this quote from Pope Francis:

The spread of the Gospel is not guaranteed either by the number of persons, or by the prestige of the institution, or by the quantity of available resources. What counts is to be permeated by the love of Christ, to let oneself be led by the Holy Spirit and to graft one’s own life onto the tree of life, which is the Lord’s Cross.—Homily, Mass with Seminarians and Novices, July 7, 2013

We are called to be "permeated by the love of Christ"-- permeated or spread throughout, thoroughly infused with the love of Christ.  Wow, now that is a powerful image.  I heard in my heart again the words, "You can't give what you don't have," which brings me back to why I went on this retreat to begin with.  I know that I need to schedule time to get away and be filled up before I can give out all that He calls me to.  As I said before, I am a nanny caring for three different families with a combination of  seven children, aging from seven months up to fifteen years old.  I consider it my calling to pour out every single ounce of love I can into each and every one of them at every opportunity I am given. The seven month old can be much much easier than the fifteen year old, but that doesn't mean I can just not bother trying. It means that I try even harder.  I also call out to Jesus to help me much more often. I ask Him to help me to not lose my patience, when the child in my care is frustrating me and getting me upset.  I don't ever want to be a voice telling any of them that they are bad, wrong, or too much to love.

Lord, Help me be a clear reflection of the Love you have for them, as if I am the only reflection they may ever see of You.  
Don't get me wrong, it is not like I hold back with the baby at all, he just makes it so much easier. But I am so thankful God doesn't just love us when it is easy.  It is in the struggles, when we may not see Him, that we are resting in His shadow.

The retreat concluded with a beautiful teaching Mass and the return of all of our cell phones and watches.  Unlike my physical eyesight, the vision of Christ only continues to get clearer and clearer the more I am exposed to the Light.  I truly treasure the taste of Heaven I was given by being able to step outside of time and schedules and be led on the Road to Damascus. I strongly suggest that you also make time to go "off the clock" and let yourself be led.

Please Lord, help me to be as my names says I am, a "Christ bearer", to the world in need of Him.  Amen

Christine Dufresne has been a Pauline Cooperator since 2014. Originally from New Bedford, MA, she served at a mission in Kentucky for 14 months before settling in Waltham, MA. In addition to being a former foster parent, she has been working with children in various ways for the past 20 years and is currently a nanny for several families. She serves as a Eucharistic minister in her home parish of St. Mary’s in Waltham as well as visiting the patients at Boston Children's Hospital at Waltham on both the eating disorder as well as behavior management wards once a month.

1 comment:

M-L Handal, NYC said...

"Immediately!" Yes, I was struck by your reflections on the immediacy of how actions spring so readily from faith. It brought to mind the Annunciation/Visitation text from Luke telling how Mary, our Queen of Apostles, immediately hurried off to visit Elizabeth. The Marian ideal "Full of Grace" encompasses "Christ in me". Thank you, Christine, for the beautiful reflections on the Conversion of Saint Paul and the deeper meaning of the Pauline spiritual state of "Christ in me".