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St PaulOne of my favorite authors tells a story about his early experiences in school. He was a creative child with boundless energy. He was the type of kid many teachers just did not know what to do with, as he did not fit the mold of the “model student”.

One day this young writer to be arrived home and informed his mother that the teacher wanted to see her the next day at school. The worried mother asked her son why the teacher had summoned her to this meeting and all the boy said, as he ran from the room, was that the teacher said he was a “Scurvy Elephant” .

The next morning the somewhat angry mother entered the classroom where the teacher was waiting and demanded to know why she had called her son a “Scurvy Elephant”.

The teacher looked back with a smile and said “I did not call your son a scurvy elephant, I called him a disturbing element!”

It seems to me that to be a follower of Christ, Jesus invites us to use our gifts to become a Scurvy Elephant or a positive disturbing element in the world.

Let me explain.

In today’s readings, there is the theme of rich food that has been prepared in a banquet for us by God.  The first reading from Isaiah is my favorite verse for funerals especially if the person who has died lived a full life.

“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.”

In the Gospel, we hear the parable of the king (God) who has prepared a glorious wedding feast for his son. It is a table filled with the best food available. However, at the end of the parable we learn that many of those invited refused to come and partake in all the banquet has to offer.

I have come to think that throughout our lives we will receive numerous invitations to a number of banquets the Lord has prepared for us.

Last week for example, Fr. Dominic talked about the availability of a new program here at St. Patrick’s called the Strengths based Workshop, which is open to all parishioners.

Could this be one such invitation?

A few months back I attended this Strengths based workshop in the parish hall.  Fr. Dominic and a team of parishioners organized these sessions to help people connect with their gifts (“the feast of rich food and choice wines”).

Over my business career, I have been to a number of similar workshops. You take a questionnaire and based on the results you learn about your personality type. These sessions also helped me to understand why I got along with some people and had difficulties with others.

The Strengths based workshop was different. It was excellent at highlighting how each person is a unique creation of God. It turns out we all have different combinations of strengths. The workshop also highlighted how we have the opportunity to utilize these strengths in ways that can make us a positive “disturbing element” in our families, at our places of work or school and in our community.

Let me give you an example using a character in the bible.

Who would you say is the most significant  “Scurvy Elephant” or Disturbing Element in the New Testament?

To make this more interesting lets exclude Jesus and Mary from this question because they are obviously the two that had the most impact.

My choice for the most POSITIVE Disturbing Element award would go to St. Paul the Evangelist.

Interestingly, for a time in the early story of the Church, Paul, who we knew as Saul, could have also won the Most Negative Disturbing Element Award.

When you take the Strengths Workshop, you will discover that there are 34 strengths. You start by completing a survey, which will identify your top five strengths.

There may well be an Ahha moment- an epiphany- when you examine your results. You may well realize that you have wasted a great deal of time and energy trying to fix your weaknesses rather than developing your strengths.

I have it on good authority that St. Paul did not take the online test but what might of his results looked like if he had the opportunity.

It is an assumption, but it could be a good bet, that St. Paul would have scored high in these two strengths:

Belief: altruistic, dependable, family-oriented, responsible, spiritual

and Achiever: energetic, goal-oriented, hardworking, motivated, self-disciplined

When we first meet Paul in Acts of the Apostles, he is going by the name of Saul. I once read a scholar who likened Saul to the members of the modern day Taliban.

Saul was a Pharisee. The Pharisees considered themselves the most expert and accurate witnesses of the Jewish law. Saul was also an achiever so he took this role very seriously.

When the Followers of the Way (the 1st Christians) appeared, Saul saw them as a threat to the purity of the faith. In the early chapters of the Acts of the Apostles Saul is leading a group zealots that stoned Steven, the 1st deacon, for blasphemy.

Then Saul has and extraordinary encounter with Christ on the Road to Damascus. Jesus speaks to him from the heavens saying, “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me? “

Our Lord could have just as easily said, “Saul, why are using your gifts to hurt my people.”

Saul became Paul with the help of another person who cared for him after Saul lost his sight. Saul realizes he must become a positive disturbing element for Christ. When he realizes this, the scales fall from his eyes and he becomes Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.

From that moment on, Paul starts to use his gifts, his God given strengths, to take the good news to the world. He establishes the church in many different places. His epistles are his letters of encouragement to these newly formed groups that are often struggling with their own beliefs.

The strengths workshop offered at the Parish is a truly unique opportunity to see yourself in a new light.

If you are young person finding your way, it is a chance to understand your God-given and unique talents.

If you are in the middle of life, it is a chance to see that you are not defined by your perceived weaknesses. It is an opportunity to see that it is your strengths that make a real difference in your life and the lives of those you touch.

If you are in, or approaching the “retirement” part of your life, you may be tempted to say that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. If you take a chance and attend the workshop, you could be surprised by how much you have to offer the least of the brothers and sisters.

Back to the gospel. No matter your age, God has invited you to a one of a kind wedding feast. On the table, God has prepared for you, your own banquet of unique gifts, strengths. All he asks is we answer this invitation and join him at the table.

When we come to fully understand that we are a unique creation of God with special strengths given to us directly from this loving Father, then we truly will know what it means to go in peace and we will be fully equipped to glorify him by the way we choose to live our lives.

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