The Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle
The conversion of St. Paul
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9,3-6
Today the Church celebrates the “conversion” of St. Paul. There is a “before” and an “after” in Paul’s life: in the middle there is an extraordinary and unexpected event. Paul himself says in some passages of his letters what he was before, when he admitted that he was “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and an arrogant man” (1Tm 1,13), all confirmed by Luke in the Acts of the apostles: “Now Saul was consenting to his [Stephen]execution …. Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” (Acts 8,1-3). It is on this persecutor of the Church that the powerful and extraordinary intervention of the Lord, which will make him a new person, bursts, sudden as a lightning in a summer storm. Paul has done nothing to “repent”. He was not in a journey of faith, rather he was committed to the following: “if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains” (Acts 9,2). He, moreover, has never used the word “conversion” to express the experience which changed his life: he always spoke of “illumination”, “revelation” and “grace”. Paul was the apostle of the grace, of the love of God, open and free of charge. The inspiration which has struck him has been to become aware, due to the brightness of that flash, of his religious schizophrenia: he, the “a Pharisee …. in righteousness based on the law” (Phil 3,5-6), was doing violence to human beings free and harmless . The voice “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 26,15) suddenly enlightened him on the fact that when you touch a person you touch God and each violence to a person is an act of violence against God, like any act of love to someone is an act of love towards God. This was the event which, after a process of internalization which lasted ten years, transformed him into a new man, so much as to be able to say: “For me life is Christ” (Phil 1,21) and “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1Cor 15,10). This irruption of grace in Paul is a “good new” also for us: it means that the resurrected Lord has the ability and the freedom to disrupt everyone’s life, even in our time, turning sinners into saints. We talked about st.Paul, but the same thing happened to st. Augustine, to st. Francis and to many less famous others. The history of the Church is full of these “good news”.