Today we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul. St. Paul is known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, and his writings comprise a significant portion of the New Testament. But we read in the Acts of the Apostles that Paul was not always a passionate Christian.
We first meet him as Saul, a zealous Pharisee who sees Christianity as blasphemy and heresy and is intent on stamping it out. In fact, Paul was complicit in the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr.
But on his way to Damascus to imprison more Christians he is blinded by a light. He hears a voice saying, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He answers, “Who are you, sir?” The voice answers, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.”
Saul remains blind until Ananias, a prominent Christian, lays hands on him and invites him to be baptized. He was baptized and went on to become Paul, one of the most important figures in the spread of Christianity. The Conversion of St. Paul is so important in the life of the Church that it is the only liturgical feast dedicated to an individual’s conversion.
Don’t Give Up on Someone Because of Their Past
“We should never give up hope on anyone,” Bishop Hying said. “Anyone is ripe for conversion, no matter how hardened, difficult, or impossible that may seem.”
Bishop Hying pointed out that the Conversion of St. Paul shows that, in a sense, God has a tricky sense of humor. Even after his conversion, the apostles didn’t trust Paul right away. After all, they knew him as someone who killed Christians! But Paul was able to bear fruit through his witness and preaching not in spite of his past, but even because of it. His personal encounter with Jesus was evident and drew countless others to Christianity.
“I’m sure many people came over to the Christian faith not only because of Paul’s words but because of his example,” Bishop Hying pointed out. “Here’s someone who is trying to stamp out this movement who suddenly becomes its most impassioned witness. What’s that all about? Something deep and life-changing had to have happened in the soul and heart of this man.”
Don’t Give Up on Yourself
“Even when we sin, fall, and fail in our mission as Christian disciples, humility calls us to just get up again and surrender,” Bishop Hying said.
He also noted that during the time of Paul’s preaching the Gospels had not yet been written, and he was not one of the Twelve so he never knew Jesus in the flesh. But Paul had such a deep and personal relationship with the Holy Spirit that he was able to know and understand more about Christ and the Good News of salvation than almost anyone.
If you are tempted to let your sins, your past, your wounds, or your lack of formal knowledge keep you from sharing Christ with others, the Conversion of St. Paul is a reminder that the most important aspect of evangelization is a personal relationship with the Trinity.
“The most effective way we can witness to others is our own personal example of how we live a radiantly joyful, generous, giving, sacrificial life in love with God,” Bishop Hying said. “That in and of itself will just overflow as a blessing into the lives of other people.”
The Church is for everybody.
Throughout Scripture, God enters into covenants with the descendants of Abraham and Moses – His Chosen People. But the covenant of Christ is for all people. There was debate and disagreement about this in the Early Church, even among the apostles.
But Paul preached the Good News to those who were not Jewish, as we read in Acts 13:47-48, “For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, that you may be an instrument of salvation to the ends of the earth.’ The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this and glorified the word of the Lord. All who were destined for eternal life came to believe, and the word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region.”
Bishop Hying noted, “It’s Paul’s vision that the Church is for everybody. It’s not simply the fulfillment of Judaism, but it’s a new covenant in the Blood of Christ. His point of view wins out over St. Peter, which is astonishing.”
On this Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul let us pray for all who do not know Christ, for the grace to preach the Gospel as St. Paul did, and the wisdom to remember that God’s grace is powerful enough to turn the greatest sinners into the greatest saints.
Listen to the full conversation with Bishop Donald Hying below: