Each year on this Friday of the 3rd Week of Easter, as the Church continues her journey through the Acts of the Apostles, she highlights the familiar story of the "conversion" of Saint Paul. So important was this event that Luke saw fit to include not one but three accounts of it in Acts. Luke - and likewise Paul himself - certainly saw it as a critical moment in the growth of the Church, setting the stage for its expansion into the Gentile world. (That "Good News Travels Fast" - the title of a children's book version of Acts some 20+ years ago - and that it travels far, even among the Gentiles, is, of course, the theme of Acts.)
There are so many amazing things happening in this story (as in Acts as a whole) that merit attention. Speaking at Mass at school this morning, I concentrated on the brief bit of dialogue in the story between Paul, blinded by the flashing light and thrown down on the ground, and the heavenly voice. That voice initiated the dialogue by asking, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? This initial question, repeated in all three accounts of the story, elicits from Paul not a reply so much as another question, Who are you, sir? To that he then receives the definitive response, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Jesus then goes on to instruct him what to do, transforming the zealous Pharisee into an equally zealous Christian missionary. Meanwhile, Jesus' self-description, his identification of himself with the Christian community, would provide an interpretive key for Paul's fully developed Christocentric ecclesiology: Now you are Christ's body, and individually parts of it (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Paul's "Body of Christ" language speaks eloquently of the unity that is supposed to characterize the Church. But it is always more than just a spiritual version of the once popular political image of a "Body Politic." For the heart of the image is not our union with one another within the body, real and important thought that is, but our union and identification with Christ, from whom our union with one another is derivative.
Like the account of Paul's "conversion" itself, the initiative comes from Christ, who first unites and identifies himself with us in the incarnation and then facilitates our response of union and identification with him through his death and resurrection. That response sums up our life with Christ and one another as his Church: living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:15-16).