Pope: Humiliations can 'open the heart', as they did for Saint Paul

Caravaggio Conversion on the Way to Damascus CNA Caravaggio's "Conversion on the Way to Damascus", 1601.

Pope Francis on Friday encouraged Christians to embrace the humiliations that God allows in our lives to draw us closer to him and open our hearts, just as Saul did after he was knocked down on the road to Damascus.

During Mass at the chapel of Santa Marta House in the Vatican on April 15, the Holy Father focused his homily on the day's first reading found in the Acts of the Apostles.

The passage recounts the famous conversion story of St. Paul, as Saul became known, who was knocked down while traveling on the road to Damascus to hunt down more Christians to persecute.

Although Saul was "a strong, brave young man, zealous in his faith," he was one "with a closed heart" who "did not want to hear about Jesus Christ" and went so far as to seek out Christ's followers to persecute them, Pope Francis said.

While on his way to find more Christians, "suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him" and Saul was thrown from his horse where, the Holy Father said, he "understood the truth; he understood that he was not a man as God wanted, because he created us, all of us, to be on our feet, heads held high."

Saul heard the voice of Christ addressing him asking, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Then Christ instructs him to "get up and go."

After his fall, Saul humbly allowed himself "to be guided" by another to Damascus because he had been blinded. It was this "humiliation" that became "the path to open the heart" which allowed him to "be converted to the Lord Jesus," the Roman Pontiff said.

He explained that "when the Lord sends us humiliation or allows humiliation to come to us, it is precisely for this reason: so the heart may be opened, may be docile."

However, Christ did not leave Saul on the ground, nor does he expect us to stay there when we are knocked down. In this account we see a lesson in conversion, the Holy Father said, explaining that with humbling experiences, "the Lord is able to change hearts and make a hard, stubborn heart become docile to the Spirit."

After a fall we first must rise, because "a Christian must be on his feet with his head held high."

A Christian must also "let yourself be led," just as Paul did when he "let himself be led like a child; entrusted himself to the hands of another, whom he did not know," when he came to Ananias, the man who God chose to use to restore Saul's sight and baptize him.

Even with all the different players in this account, the "main character" in all this is the Holy Spirit, whom the Pope called the "protagonist of the Church who leads the People of God."

Pope Francis concluded saying that this conversion story affects all of us since we all "have hardness of heart," just as Saul did.

"(L)et us ask the Lord to make us see that this hardness knocks us to the ground; may he send us the grace and also – if necessary – humiliation so as not to remain down but rise, with the dignity with which God created us, which is the grace of a heart open and docile to the Holy Spirit."

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