Last month a group of us JOS Scholars met over three sessions to study and converse on the writings of St. Paul. We began with Garry Wills' book, "What Paul Meant" and launched a lively series of conversations. We reminded ourselves that Paul was the earliest witness who wrote in his own words concerning the experience of Jesus. Before the Gospels were written (likely 30-40 years before) Paul wrote in his own words what the meaning of Jesus Christ is and ought to be for those who follow the Path of the carpenter from Nazareth.
Two intertwining realities are constant in Paul's writing and they are the combination of his personal story of transformation and the teaching of the Message of Freedom in Christ. The story we probably have in our minds of the conversion of St. Paul is one of the three that we find the Book of Acts : a book that is also 40 years later than this writing from the Letter to the Galatians.
Paul's conversion or transformation leaves him pretty much completely surprised that he still lives even after he has experienced this crucifixion with Christ. He tells us in other places that he would rather be dead and with Christ than alive and in the world. He really means this since he registers such surprise when he says, "Yet, I live!" Why, he thinks, go on living in this life when you experience the absolute freedom of life in Christ. Strong words that reveal the depth of Paul's commitment to his mission of preaching and teaching the Gospel's Good News.
Today as we gather in faith we also celebrate Father's Day. Happy Father's Day to the Dads of all kinds in our community. Becoming a Father is truly a transformational experience. It is one that grows along with your children and one that allows you to look back over the story of your life. This transformation is altogether a physical, mental, and spiritual one. And we are certainly aware in our society that this combination requires attention.
And for that attention I want to inform the Dads today that there are resources to keep in mind to keep us healthy in all ways, not just spiritually. Researchers tell us that it is increasingly important for men to reconnect with old friends, especially of the male type. Men typically lose contact with such friends once they marry and start their families.
Here are a few things to realize about the good health that attends such a recontact. Researchers tell us that "reconnected" male friends handle stress more successfully, lowers one's risk for heart disease, increases masculine self-esteem and self-esteem. What I want to know is why do we have to do all these social studies to tell us what we already know?
Transformation may come from a complete shock and surprise as it did for St. Paul or it may take a gradual path of continual reconnection as these studies recommend. In any case, once we understand that we are transformed particularly in the spiritual sense then we can also accept the power of reconciliation and forgiveness. Forgiveness between husband and wife, fathers and their children (and vice versa), friend to friend also contributes to all those healthy conditions that the social scientists are happy to report on.
King David, whose sins are featured in our first reading this morning, was a man who sinned greatly and whose transformation required him to acknowledge his need for forgiveness from God. This is the positive effect of being transformed in God, in the risen Christ. The awareness of this experience for change is what the theologian and pastor, Paul Tillich, called faith as the experience of being grasped. It is the spiritual equivalent of being knocked off your horse, or swept off your feet, as we say.
In any case our Fathers today will be happy to know that getting back together with good old "What's His Name" from the good old days comes highly recommended. And here's one last recommendation, in honor of Dear Old Dad, who is on his way to transformation. Researchers also say that a great way to reduce the risk of heart disease is to nap at least three times a week. So, if nothing else sinks in today, I say to all Fathers : Nap On!!!