By Rachel Burkey
In today’s first reading, Luke writes about the burial of Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, at the hands of Saul, later to become the great missionary and saint, Paul. Luke phrases that Saul was ‘trying to destroy the Church.’ Luke goes on to write later in the book of Acts that Saul was ‘breathing murderous threats’ against the Christians. It seems hard to imagine that this murderer, this man who devoted his life to destroying the Church, would eventually become one of the greatest and most recognized leaders in the life of the Church.
For me, I see it as a message of mercy.
The presidential election is right around the corner, and it has inundated our news, newspapers, and social media. Everywhere you look, there are updates on Cruz, Trump, Sanders, and Hilary. People are pointing fingers and digging into everyone’s past to reveal their "true" person. So as I read today’s readings, I couldn’t help but think about what Paul's story has to do with our country’s election. What if Paul were running for president today? Sure, he’s got dirt--probably the the worst dirt. His past certainly doesn’t represent him well.
But, what if he wasn't given a second chance?
Paul encounters Christ in such a powerful way that it changes him completely, so much so that he changes his name from Saul to Paul because he has become a new creation, a new person in Christ. God welcomed him with open arms, His mercy abundant, and Paul is forever changed. Pope Francis, in a homily from 2013, says that
“we too are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand…like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others.”
I think this is pretty spot on. We see it in our culture consistently: reality TV, the news, cyberbullying, even in our own lives. But Pope Francis continues: “Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think ...that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy.”
As we near closer to this presidential election, let us remember this message of mercy. Our past does not define our future, and we are called to be merciful as God is. I know the race will grow more heated, but instead of getting caught up in the pointing of fingers, I hope to bring an attitude and demeanor of mercy.
Moreover, I pray that I can participate in discussions without condemnation... because none of us are perfect.
I know it's a crazy election but I also know that God can work through even the hardest of hearts, like Saint Paul’s. So, I pray for our country, for the candidates running, and for all those in public office that God will touch their hearts and guide them in truth, goodness, and beauty.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Burkey is originally from Nashville, TN, but currently resides in Cleveland, OH. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in German and Italian, her Master's in Education from Lipscomb University, and is currently working on her Master's in Theology at Saint Mary's Seminary in Cleveland, OH. She teaches theology at Gilmour Academy and also functions as a LifeTeen music director at several parishes within the diocese. In addition to her teaching and music ministries, she enjoys spending much of her time writing liturgical music, leading worship around the country, and speaking at retreats and other conferences.