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Donna M. Cole

Beyond Damascus


Conversion moments are what compel us to move forward. Sometimes they cause us to stumble on; other times they mark our path with clarity. Whatever form these experiences take, if we fail to share them in some way, they diminish in meaning. The grace that comes from an encounter with Christ is surely a source of great personal joy for us, but our call is to use the strength, or voice, or vision, or presence that grace grants for the greater good of the community of believers. Making that transition from internal conversion experience to community experience is a challenge for everyone, from the catechumen to those who have spent a lifetime of service in ministry. This is a constant, never-ending cycle of revelation, discovery, and offering of self. Like St. Paul, we travel on and beyond the road to Damascus. When we are open to making those connections between what has been revealed to us in faith and what we are called to be for one another, the scales are dropped from our eyes and discernment becomes clear. That we are to act is certain; how we are to act in today's church of tension is not as certain. Certainly there is need for greater attentiveness to prayer and a better understanding of self and others as we try to grow together. Thomas Merton says that "he who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas" (Contemplation in a World of Action 160-161). He might have written that today.

In this issue of ML, we consider the road beyond Damascus from a variety of perspectives, all centering on community. We complete our series on the Pastoral Initiative on Marriage. Mary Ann Paulukonis defines how marriage is an icon, an element of faith formation for the Christian community. Kathy and Steve Beirne describe how the parish can be more inclusive of married couples, recognizing their role in community life. Todd Flowerday addresses the Damascus experience specifically, offering insight into how to develop the conversion experience of the catechumenate into purposeful community action. Finally, Paul Turner leads us into a deeper understanding of the connections between liturgy and Scripture that drive the changes in language in the new translation of the Order of Mass. Understanding the roots of our community worship and ritual dialogue helps us better join our voices as one in prayer.

Merton mentioned this, too: "If our prayer is the expression of a deep and grace-inspired desire for newness of life" and not the mere blind attachment to what has always been familiar and "safe" - God will act in us and through us to renew the Church by preparing, in prayer, what we cannot yet imagine or understand. In this way our prayer and faith today will be oriented toward the future which we ourselves may never see fully realized on earth" (161). The hard part is trusting in God to act in us and through us. When we feel the earth seem to shift under our feet, when changes appear to come for the sake of change, the uncertainty may not shake our faith, but it certainly can rattle our cages. It can sometimes make us blind to what God is calling us to do. In an uncertain world, in an uncertain economy, and in a church in transition, we may find ourselves in new or different roles. More now than ever, we need to be attentive to those conversion moments, to the sound of God's voice in the unexpected times and places, so that we are ready to receive the grace we need in those roles. Then we will be able to draw closer to one another in community, to share what has been revealed through us, and to go forth together to build up the reign of God. ML

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