The conversion of Saul is one of the more colorful stories in the Acts of the Apostles. In fact, it is told twice, in chapters 9 and 22. Interestingly, the Italian artist Caravaggio painted two renderings of this episode. One is the Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus
and hangs in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo [and was a favorite of Martin Luther and me!]. Here the horse dominates the painting and hovers mischievously over Saul. The other painting is the Conversion of Saul
which is also in Rome. This composition, with its jagged shapes and irrational light, creates “a sense of crisis and dislocation in which Christ disrupts the mundane world.” And indeed, disrupts the life of Paul -- forever changing him from a persecutor of the early Christian communities to a great missionary and one of the most influential figures in Christian history.
Next to Jesus, Paul is the most prominent person in the New Testament. Of its 27 books, 13 letters are attributed to Paul. More than half of the Acts is devoted to Paul’s conversion and his apostolic activities of spreading the good news about Jesus.
As we read and hear Paul’s writings, he emerges as energetic, committed and heroic. He is also defensive, sarcastic and nasty. Some call him a misogynist and homophobic; perhaps he was or he was not; but one thing is certain -- Paul’s greatness resided in his passion for the good news about Jesus and his desire to share it.
Paul’s apostolic zeal and missionary enthusiasm positioned the very foundation of the Church of today -- multicultural, multi-faceted and global in perspective.
So we reflect:
- By his conversion Paul advanced from being blind to seeing with the eyes of Christ. So we ask ourselves: as this new congress begins are there people and political beliefs whose goodness we are blind to? Can we see how we have exercised our ‘right to be wrong’ and now need to be converted to Jesus’ way of love and mercy?
- By his conversion Paul revealed the Spirit’s power to change us, and through us, to transform the world. So we ask: despite our occasional blindness and stubbornness, how has the Spirit used us/me as chosen instruments to make Jesus known and to change our immediate community---home, workplace and school—for the better?
- By his conversion Paul encourages us to proclaim the Gospel to every creature. As Jesus left his disciples telling them to “go into the world and proclaim the gospel…” So it is our turn. As Mother Teresa noted: “today Christian women and men have to carry our Lord to places he has not walked before…” Are you/we up to that challenge?
- By his conversion from prosecutor to believer, Paul became our mentor and teacher in the Christian faith; so we reflect: are we open enough to ask ourselves if we are prepared to experience a conversion in those areas of faith, behavior or attitude that need to be refocused on the love and mercy of the Lord?
Paul tells us in one of his letters, that because he kept the faith and believed in the Lord, that “the Lord stood by him and gave him strength….rescued him from every danger…and allowed him to compete well and win the race!” The cause and effect — from faith comes salvation and the fullness of life for the Christian believer.
Paul is a powerful witness that the Word of god could not be ‘chained down,” and what the grace of God can do with mere human flesh.
With God’s help, our humanity does not disqualify us as a “chosen instrument,” loved and sent by the Spirit to carry the Good News to all around us. By his conversion St. Paul has shown us the way “to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”