Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle
Today we are celebrating the Conversion of St. Paul. St. Paul was born as Saul at Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia (modern Turkey), and encountered Christ on the road to Damascus which changed him forever. This conversion of St. Paul while he was on his way to Damascus is one of the most touching miracles in the history of the early Church. It shows us how faith comes from the grace of God and from one’s free cooperation. And so he, from a persecutor (Saul), he was transformed into the most zealous and courageous apostle (Paul).
Saul, in the first place, he was a persecutor of Christians. He hated and persecuted Christians as heretical, even assisting at the stoning of Saint Stephen, the proto-martyr of the Church. On his way to Damascus to arrest another group of Christians, I am sure it was a pure and simple grace that he was knocked to the ground, struck blind by a heavenly light and given the message that in persecuting Christians, he was persecuting Christ. A voice he heard saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” And Saul answered, “Who are You, Lord?” and the voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you persecute.” In other words, Christ identifies Himself with His followers and always with them until the end of the world. The experience had a profound spiritual effect on him, causing his conversion to Christianity. He was baptized, changed his name to Paul to reflect his new persona and began travelling and preaching.
When we heard the word ‘conversion’ we usually think of a great sinner who abandons a sinful life and becomes a good person. Someone said that actually St. Paul was not a bad person. When he persecuted the early Christian Church, he did it out of great zeal for God and his religion. He did it because he did not yet know Christ at that time. From the Christian point of view, conversion is basically the discovery of a person whose name is Jesus Christ. This is what happened to St. Paul. Once he discovered the love of Jesus in his life he dedicated himself completely to proclaiming that love to all who would listen.
According to The Shaw Pocket Bible Handbook, edited by Walter A. Elwell (Harold Shaw Publ., Wheaton, IL; 1984, p. 347), conversion is the decisive act in which a sinner turns away from sin in genuine repentance and accepts the salvation that Christ offers. The imagery in conversion is that of turning. A person is going along a road and realizes that he/she is on the wrong track. They will never reach the destination if they continue in that direction. So the person “turns,” or “is converted.” He/she ceases to go in the wrong direction and begins going in the right one. Conversion changes the direction of one’s course of life from the wrong way to the right way, the way that God wants.
Therefore we must not think that conversion is only for those who are non-Catholics. All of us need conversion. In fact we Catholics need more conversion than other Christians if we are serious in saying that it is in the Catholic Church we can find the most complete revelation of Jesus. It was Christ and not His followers, not even His Apostles that this Church was founded. If we believe that Christ declared His intention of founding a Church, by the institution of a living authority when He said to Simon Peter: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the underworld shall not prevail against it,” (Matt. 16:18). This conversion is a task that never comes to an end until we reach our final destiny. We have to always turn away from sin and grow deeper in our knowledge and love of Christ.