The conversion of Saint Paul, which we celebrate today, was undoubtedly the most import event of the first generation of Christians after that first Pentecost itself.
There are actually two “conversions” that I’d like to call to your attention as we think of these occurrences. The brilliant, arrogant, very hostile Saul of Tarsus (his name would be changed to Paul later) who wants so much to destroy “the Way” founded by Jesus has obtained authorization from the high court of the Jewish people to go to Damascus, round up all the Christians he could find there, bring them back to Jerusalem, and then either force them to repudiate their faith in Jesus or be imprisoned or perhaps even killed. (Remember, it was at the feet of Saul that those who killed Saint Stephen, our first martyr, left their cloaks as they hurled the deadly stones at Stephen.)
As he approached Damascus, Saul was surrounded by a brilliant light that blinded him, and a voice addressed him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting ME?” Out of his blindness and confusion — which of the Christians whom he is persecuting is speaking to him? — he says, “Who are you, sir?” Notice the respectful way in which he addresses one whom he is persecuting. The answer comes, “I am Jesus the Nazarene whom you are persecuting.” Saul’s next words are both respectful, humble, and indicate a dramatic change. “What shall I do, sir?” Saul, the much feared persecutor, is now humbly asking direction of Jesus whom up to now he has hated.
Then, he is led in his blindness into Damascus where one of the Christians, Ananias by name, is instructed by Our Lord to go to Saul, lay hands on him so that Saul might regain his sight. Ananias wonders if the Lord knows all the facts of the case. He doesn’t refuse to do as he is told, but he does object: “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.” But Our Lord assures Ananias that he knows what he is doing, and that this Saul is to carry his name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. That is enough for the obedient Ananias. He goes to find Saul, and when he has found him, his words are beautiful: “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me . . .” Just a few minutes before, he had feared Saul and known him to be an enemy and a persecutor. Now, he is “Saul, my brother.”
Conversion from error to truth and from evil to good is always beautiful. We may profitably pray that our whole lives may be on-going conversions from what we are now to men and women of greater truth and goodness, effected as always by the loving grace of God. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.