Winning souls for Christ
In today’s Gospel (Mark 1:14-20) Our Lord began to call the Apostles, and He said to Simon and Andrew, “Follow Me and I will make you into fishers of men.” This call dramatically changed their lives, but it was not made only to the Apostles. Our Lord is also calling us, and He is telling us that if we follow Him, we too will be fishers of men and bring other people to Him.
This coming Thursday, we will celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. His conversion is one of the most dramatic events in the New Testament (Acts 9:1-9). Paul who hated Christians, was imprisoning them and even putting some to death. But then JESUS appeared to him on the road to Damascus, spoke a word to him and he was converted. He was baptised and his life changed for ever. A little earlier on in the Acts of the Apostles, we hear the story of the stoning of St Stephen (Acts 7:55-60). Saul or Paul as a younger man was standing there guarding their cloaks as the others stoned Stephen to death. In that moment Stephen prayed for him.
So when people persecute the Church today, do we pray for them? Do we pray for their conversion? Do we pray for their good, or do we pray for bad things for them? St Paul probably converted more people to the Christian Faith than any other person in history. But it was God’s plan to use him, a man who hated JESUS, who was convinced JESUS wasn’t the Messiah, and who was killing Christians, to convert the Gentiles and pagans to the Faith. So just after his encounter with JESUS, he went to the Damascus synagogue and preached to the Jews there that JESUS is the Messiah. And then he went to the pagans whom he had also hated and preached the Gospel to them. God works in mysterious ways!
Christians, and especially Catholics are hated by many in the world. Christians are the most persecuted group in the world today. We need to pray for our persecutors and for their conversion. It could be that God is going to use them to convert many people in our day. St Augustine (354-430) said that without the prayer of St Stephen there would have been no St Paul. In other words, without St Stephen’s prayer, Paul wouldn’t have received the grace of conversion. So are we willing to suffer for others, to accept the trials God deals to us and offer them to God for the conversion of our enemies? St Stephen had no idea that his death would bring about the conversion of the man who was responsible for it. And now they are great saints together in Heaven.
The Church is going through her own Passion right now, and many of you are upset and distraught about it. There is much confusion and we have people trying to change divinely revealed truth to fit with the secular agenda. But we must trust in God. He is permitting this to happen, and out of it He will bring a great good and purification of the Church. Ultimately the only thing that will matter is our fidelity to JESUS Christ. So whatever we have to face, just remain faithful. That means loving God and our neighbour. Very often our neighbour doesn’t love us, but you may be the one to touch their heart and bring about their conversion. This is the “new evangelisation”. Perhaps God wants you to be a part of it!
Fr Paul Gillham, IC