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July 27, 2008
The Conversion of St. Paul
St. Paul the Apostle and patron of our parish was born or Jewish parents or the tribe of Benjamin. His parents were pharisees who lived in Cilicia, a province in the modern day Turkey.
After being educated by Gamaliel, a very knowledgeable and noble Jew and perhaps a member of the Sanhedrin, Paul also embraced the sect of the Pharisees which was of all others the most severe. Here we see Paul’s determination and good will toward his faith in God.
It did not take long for all to see that Paul surpassed all his equals in zeal for the Jewish law and their traditions, which he saw as the will of God. It is with this perspective that Paul became a vicious persecutor and most outrageous enemy of Jesus, the Christ. With permission from the High Priest, Paul would drag the Christians out of their houses, loaded them with chains, and throw them into prison. Not only was Paul responsible for persecuting their faith and for harming them physically, he also seized their estates and what they possessed in common, leaving them in dire need. This practice often backfired on Paul, however, because it forced the Christians to become stronger in their common life, giving them the opportunity to practice love for one an other.
Paul was aware that there was a large number of Christians in Damascus, in present day Syria. Paul asked for permission to travel to Damascus in order to seek out all Christians in that city. He would bind them in chains and drag them back to Jerusalem to make a public example to anyone who thought of becoming a Christian. He was almost at the end of this journey when, about noon, he and his company were suddenly surrounded by a great light from heaven. The light was so bright that everyone was struck with amazement and fell to the ground. It was then that Paul heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” In amazement Paul asked, “Who are you?” The answer came, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you persecute.” Then Paul asked, “Lord, what will you have me do? How can I repair the past?”
Once the light disappeared Paul realized he was blind. He had to be lead to Damascus by his attendants. He was brought to the home of a devote Jew where he stayed for three days fasting from food and drink. God brought a devote Christian named Ananias to him in order to teach him the truths of the Christian faith. It was during this time that Paul received God’s grace and had a complete change of heart. From that day onward Paul never looked back but always focused his attention on the will of Christ. All the zeal he had had as a Jew was transferred to the building of the new Christian church.
It is true that Paul’s conversion was very dramatic. It is easy to see that it corresponded to Paul’s life and personality. We must not focus all our attention on the story line and the drama however. The importance of Paul’s conversion lies in the fact that God is the all powerful one in our lives, not us. We are not the ones in charge. No matter how proud we may be or how determined or zealous we are in our convictions, we must always be open to God’s grace in our lives. We may not be thrown from our horse or blinded but then again, perhaps we could be. How would we respond? Are we ready to turn ourselves around and make a complete conversion, a change of heart for God’s purpose?
Lorette P. Nault