Saint of the Day – 25 January – St Paul on his Conversion
The conversion of Paul the Apostle, was, according to the New Testament, an event in the life of Paul the Apostle that led him to cease persecuting early Christians and to become a follower of Jesus. It is normally dated to AD 33–36. The phrases Pauline conversion, Damascene conversion and Damascus Christophany and road to Damascus allude to this event.
The great Apostle Paul, named Saul at his circumcision, was born at Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia and was by privilege a Roman citizen, to which quality a great distinction and several exemptions were granted by the laws of the empire. He was early instructed in the strict observance of the Mosaic law and lived up to it in the most scrupulous manner. In his zeal for the Jewish law, which he thought the cause of God, he became a violent persecutor of the Christians. He was one of those who combined to murder Saint Stephen and in the violent persecution of the faithful, which followed the martyrdom of the holy deacon, Saul exemplified himself above others. By virtue of the power he had received from the high priest, he dragged the Christians out of their houses, loaded them with chains and thrust them into prison.
In the fury of his zeal he applied for a commission to take up all Jews at Damascus who confessed Jesus Christ and bring them bound to Jerusalem, that they might serve as examples for the others. But God was pleased to show forth in him His patience and mercy. While on his way to Damascus, he and his party were surrounded by a light from heaven, brighter than the sun and suddenly struck to the ground. And then a voice was heard saying, “Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?” And Saul answered, “Who art thou, Lord?” and the voice replied, “I am Jesus whom thou dost persecute.” This mild expostulation of our Redeemer, accompanied with a powerful interior grace, cured Saul’s pride, assuaged his rage and wrought at once a total change in him.
Wherefore, trembling and astonished, he cried out, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” Our Lord ordered him to arise and to proceed on his way to the city, where he should be informed of what was expected from him. Saul, arising from the ground, found that though his eyes were open, he saw nothing. He was led by hand into Damascus, where he was lodged in the house of a Jew named Judas. To this house came by divine appointment a holy man named Ananias, who, laying his hands on Saul, said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to thee on thy journey, hath sent me that thou mayest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” Immediately something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he recovered his eyesight.
Then he arose and was baptised; he stayed some few days with the disciples at Damascus, and began immediately to preach in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God. Thus a blasphemer and a persecutor was made an apostle and chosen as one of God’s principal instruments in the conversion of the world.
From then on, his only work was to “present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labour and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Colossians 1:28b-29). “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5a).
Paul’s life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ’s victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new.
So Paul’s great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more “works” than the Law could ever contemplate.