By Denise Trull
One of the most beautiful phrases in the whole Bible is read at Mass on this feast:
"Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me....".
The cost of that one, kind, genuinely spoken word "brother" we will never know. It was said by a disciple of the Lord in Damascus named Ananias. He is one of my favorite people in the New Testament even though he is hardly spoken of after that. I don’t think St. Paul would mind if I dwelled awhile on Ananias, here on his feast day. For I am sure Ananias was one of Paul’s favorites as well. There would certainly have been no conversion without him.
I have always pictured Ananias as tall, gracious, and soft spoken; one of those early disciples who quietly came to believe without fanfare. Someone whom you might enjoy just talking to at a kitchen table with his pleasant soft-spoken lilt. Someone who took care of people and made sure things ran smoothly in the Christian community. The one you would ask if you really needed something done well without "drama" or a lot of questions.
It is quite clear that Jesus loved his gracious qualities as well, for he appeared to him in a vision.
Ananias, as it turns out, was asked by Jesus to give one of the most difficult gifts a human can give - genuine forgiveness and comfort - to an enemy. In this case, to Saul, who was described as still "breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord... ."
Ananias was asked to accept Saul into the Brotherhood. He was frightened and perhaps fighting resentment, I am sure. He perhaps felt cornered by Jesus and dug in for a bit - he didn't go down without a "rebuttal." Jesus seemed to understand how difficult the request was, for He did not reprimand him. But neither did he withdraw the request. Not only was Ananias to go and meet Saul - not sure what Saul might do to him. He was also going to have to explain to the other Christians that this man, this zealot with murder in his heart; this man who already might have killed one of their friends, or mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers...maybe even one of Ananias’s OWN loved ones - this man Saul was to become a Christian and Ananias was to go to him. And in the end he went because he loved Jesus that much.
I am sure there was a struggle within his heart on the way. A back and forth between the old man and the new. But by the time he got to Saul, and those words came from his mouth, we know that the New Man had triumphed. "Saul, my brother..." they are nothing but genuine and filled with charity.
What did Paul do? After three days of blindness and not eating a thing, perhaps frightened out of his own wits as well - Saul's first experience of his new life as a Christian was to be a gentle voice and a gentle hand on his shoulder and the word "brother" falling like dew on his sore, confused heart. Ananias was Saul's first taste of real forgiveness. It was Ananias who gave Saul the heart to accept his new life and his mission knowing it would be supported by such brothers as this. I don't think Saul would ever forget that word and how much it had cost his Brother Ananias to say it.
Ananias. Calm, quiet, gracious, capable. Trusted by Jesus to do the right thing and well. I just love him for each of those qualities. He is a model of Christian forgiveness and hospitality. A man who makes the word "brother" feel like the balm of Gilead.
Let us give thanks for all the Ananias moments in our lives on this day. The times we received the grace to forgive another or the times we received that grace in return. It is that forgiveness that gave us the glorious wonder of St. Paul.