Sermon: The Conversion of St. Paul

I had been working on a house, rewiring some outlets. The outlets were on the first floor, but the breaker box was down in the basement. For whatever reason, I could not get this one outlet to work from a switch on the wall, so I would make an adjustment, run downstairs, flip the breaker, run back upstairs, test the switch, and then when it still wouldn’t work, go through it all again.

I don’t know about you, but there are times in the middle of these sort of frustrating projects, that I’ll get some less than brilliant idea, and try something new. My less than brilliant idea in this particular case: “I’m tired of going up and down the dang stairs. I can make these adjustments without flipping the breaker.” I was unsuccessful and quickly learned what if felt like to be hit with a cattle prod.

The cattle prod comes in many different forms. There is the electrical node on the end of a stick used for getting cattle to move along, but working off that same principle is the bark collar. A rather unkind way of trying to teach a dog not to bark at everything. And then there is the ultimate cattle prod known as the police taser, which attempts to teach hardheaded individuals to stop what they are doing. All of these devices, especially the cattle prod, are descendants of the ox goad.

The ox goad is a long stick with a sharp metal point on the end. The farmer, behind a plow, would hold the point of the goad around the oxen’s ankles and used it as a way to guide the animal: a tap on the left, go left. A tap on the right, go right. However, the ox – particularly the younger ones – were not accustomed to being harnessed and could become a bit stubborn, so a little prod with that sharp stick was a way to “goad” them, encourage them along. Not only that, but if the ox got out of hand and started kicking, they would actually prick themselves.

In our reading from Acts, Paul, speaking to King Agrippa says, ”I was traveling to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, when at midday along the road, your Excellency, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, `Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’” In other words, Jesus was saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you fighting against me and my church when you know in your heart that I am the Messiah? It hurts you to kick against the goads – it hurts you to continue to be stubborn and to doubt what you know is true.” Paul knew in his heart what the truth was, but he remained stubborn.

What is at the root of such stubbornness, of failing to be obedient? Pride. And, like Paul, we can fall into the same error. We pray, “My will be done,” and not, “Thy will be done,” and we kick against the goads. We grab the live wire, even though we know better.

A wonderful saying from St. Josemaría Escrivá: “If obedience does not give you peace, it is because you are proud.” (The Way #620)

If we do not feel peace about our words or actions, if we feel the sharp prick of the goad in our spirit, then perhaps we need to consider whether or not we are being prideful, seeking our own will and our own ways, instead of God’s; and then remember that the goading is not God’s way of punishing, but teaching and loving, so that we may stay on the path of righteousness.

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