The Conversion of St. Paul–His and Ours
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Usually this feast would not be celebrated when it occurs on a Sunday, but we celebrate it here in our Diocese, the Diocese of St. Petersburg as it will be celebrate in many other Archdiocese and Dioceses throughout the world because our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI declared a Jubilee Year of St. Paul from June 29, 2008 to June 29, 2009, celebrating the 2,000 years since his birth.
We all know the scene of St. Paul’s conversion. There is the road to Damascus as Saul of Tarsus led a group of fervent Pharisees to go and cleanse that city of its followers of Christ. We have seen the paintings of the bright light with Christ in the middle, of the horse throwing Saul, and of his companions falling in fear. Actually, there is no horse in the scripture, Saul probably couldn’t afford one, but that is beside the point. The point is that Jesus appears to Saul and asks him, “Why are you persecuting me?” No persecuting the Christians, but me. Jesus identifies with His Church, with us. Saul, as you know, is blinded. Fitting. He had been blind to God’s presence among the Christians. It would take one of these Christians Ananais, to help Saul receive his sight and recognize God in the Messiah.
Although this feast celebrates that event, Paul’s conversion did not end on that road. It began on the road. He would go on to suffer for the faith. In Second Corinthians Paul states that five times he received forty lashes less one, three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, three times he was shipwrecked along with all sorts of other persecutions. Far more difficult than these persecutions was “the thorn in the flesh” he speaks of in 2 Corinthians 12. What was this, exactly. Was the thorn his temper? He often lost his temper, even with Peter Jerusalem. Was it some sort of temptation to sin? Was it physical ailments. We don’t know. But we do know that Paul realized his complete dependence on Jesus, whose “power was made perfect in my weakness, (2 Corinthians 12:19.) One thing is for sure, Paul’s conversion began on the road to Damascus, but was not completed until his final moments before his execution in Rome.
Nor is ours.
We may be cradle Catholics or we may have come into the faith through the RCIA. We may have always been united to God, or we may have strayed away and then come back. Our decision to embrace our baptism, perhaps to return to the Lord, is certainly a conversion, but it is only the beginning of the conversion. Through the Grace of God, our entire lives are consecutive moments of conversion, deepening conversion. Our entire liturgical year leads us to deepen our union with the Lord. Advent and Lent help us look at our lives and call upon the Lord to pick us up after we fall. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, call us to a deeper commitment to the Presence of God as one of us, to the Grace of our Baptism, to the work of the Spirit.
Can we do it? Can each of us be the person that God created us to be? Alone, no. We cannot. But we are not alone. St. Paul tells us in what is perhaps the most assuring sentence for all of us who join him in the process of conversion: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13.