We celebrate today the feast of St. Paul’s conversion. It is recorded in two places in the Acts of the Apostles either of which becomes the option for the first reading in today’s liturgy. The two texts are remarkably alike and their differences are of the more subtle kind that would be familiar to a scripture scholar. But for all of us the two renditions of Paul’s conversion present a quite dramatic story of God’s initiative and invitation to St. Paul.
The story is familiar. Saul, the persecutor of the very early Christian movement is on his way to Damascus to capture those who follow Christ there and to bring them back to Jerusalem “in chains for punishment.”
But something extremely odd takes place as Saul nears Damascus ready to wreak vengeance on the community of followers of Christ (or the “Way” as he refers to it). He is struck to the ground by a blinding light. He then hears a voice, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Blind and frightened he asks, “Who are you, sir?” The reply comes, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
He is directed to continue on to Damascus and to find a person named Ananias. Ananias cured Saul’s blindness and counseled him to be baptized in the name of Christ; the rest is, to say the least, our Christian history.
The conversion of St. Paul is indeed a striking event filled with much color and hue. The result of it all is that Saul the persecutor literally becomes Paul the Apostle; a bulk of the rest of the Acts of the Apostles recounts the marvelous results of that conversion/change.
What does this rich drama say to us today? Paul’s conversion was instant and immediately effective; he never wandered from the call to conversion and to the powerful results of that conversion. “Saul” was shed in Damascus and an entirely new person “Paul” took his place – strong stuff indeed, the product of God’s transforming grace that brought about Saul-to-Paul, a persecutor of “the Way” to its chief apostle in bringing the Way to all people.
The feast is a clear invitation to consider our own conversion which for most of us may be less dramatic, but nonetheless transformative. Each one of us is called to be an apostle/disciple in our world just as Paul was called to his. Conversion begins by our entrance into Christ at baptism and continues with our discovering Jesus in our lives. What does Jesus say to us (just as he spoke plainly to Saul)? The answer to that question is without doubt worthy of our meditation and contemplation. Let us engage the question with faith and hope.
Jesus, keep us open to your voice, to your word. Help us to HEAR YOU in the voices and the lives of those we encounter today. Be with us as we grow in our conversion/call and respond to those around us, especially those in most need.
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