“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.
“While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Then he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’ Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. I asked, ‘What am I to do, Lord?’ The Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.’ Since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus.
“A certain Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there, came to me; and standing beside me, he said, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight!’ In that very hour I regained my sight and saw him. Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice; for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.’”
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” All who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem among those who invoked this name? And has he not come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah.
Praise the Lord, all you nations!
Extol him, all you peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
St Paul described his own conversion as an untimely birth, or as one who is born late (1 Cor 15:8). He was not one of the original disciples of Jesus. He did not walk with Jesus, he did not hear him teach, he did not witness his miracles. St. Paul was not there for the crucifixion, neither was he witness to Jesus’ resurrection. Our first records of his encounter with anyone who attested to Jesus’ resurrection was when he witnessed the violent death of St. Stephen, a deacon in the church and the first martyr. In our modern world, we might find a few correlations, as we have all been born late for an apostle. None of us were alive when Jesus was born, or when he died, or when he rose again. We may have witnessed aggression and hostility in regard to the Christian faith, and if St. Paul had walked the streets of New York today instead of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, he might have been one touting the phrase “intolerance towards intolerance” or some other bizarre and misguided slogan to justify his actions against Christians.
What we most likely do not have in common with St. Paul is the story of his conversion. I have never met anyone else knocked to the ground by a blinding light and the voice of Jesus calling out to them, causing them to change their ways. I do know many who would love such an experience or have essentially asked for such an experience, or who have even held their belief in God hostage until God reaches out to them in such a tangible way. Among these same people, I do not know that many who would do as St. Paul did and traverse land and sea, facing disaster and near death time and again, for the sole purpose of converting souls to Christ. I do not know many who would stand up to the political leaders of the day, or those of dissenting opinion, to teach the truth about God and his Church. I do not think many of them would have the bravery and conviction to speak to St. Peter as St. Paul did, challenging him on his lack of docility to the Holy Spirit.
But though we may not have walked with Jesus physically or heard his voice on the road to Damascus, there is nothing to keep us from having the same conviction as St. Paul, St. Peter, and all the apostles in working with God and being lead by the Holy Spirit. We have all been given the same promise of to receive, to find, and to have the way opened to us if we remember to ask, seek, and knock. God will always speak to us if we make time to listen. He has a plan for each and every one of us and a message of conversion for ourselves and the world. Let us remember today, on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, that God is still moving in incredible ways. Let us remember that our commission is the same as all apostles, to go out and tell the good news. Let us remember that we must convert our hearts more and more to Christ so that he can turn us into instruments of his will. Let us work today to make ourselves more and more impersonators of St. Paul, and all the saints who have labored to be impersonators of Christ.
Prayer: Dear God, help me to know you more. Teach me how to follow in your ways. Help me to be more converted to you more and more each day, and show me how to share the good news of your promises to the world. May I be like St. Paul in the strength of my convictions of your love and mercy. Make me into an instrument of your perfect will. Amen.