January 24, 2017

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

The conversion of St. Paul

Although Saint Paul shares a martyr’s feast day with Saint Peter on June 29, the Church has recognized the most momentous occurrence in this apostle’s life by also celebrating a separate feast for the conversion of St. Paul on January 25th.

What makes the story of Paul’s conversion so compelling is both its swiftness and the profound change it wrought in his life. Born to a devout Jewish family in Tarsus, Saul, as he was then known, saw in this new Christian faith a direct challenge to the Judaism to which he had devoted his entire life. So incensed was he against this new religion that, for a time, Saul became one of its most violent and unforgiving persecutors, "entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment." (Acts 8:3).

Acts also records that he was present at the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen. Then, acting on formal orders from the high priest in Jerusalem, Saul set out for Damascus to round up any Christians he found there in order to bring them back for punishment. On the way, however, he had a profound encounter with Jesus, an incident which not only threw him from his horse, but left him blinded. What struck Saul most, however, were the words of Jesus: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" In an instant, this man, who would become the great Apostle to the Gentiles, realized that Jesus was identifying Himself with the very people whom he, Saul, had been persecuting. From that moment until his death, Paul devoted himself to the propagation of Christianity with the same tireless zeal that he had once used to try to destroy it.

After his conversion, Paul brought the Gospel to Damascus and Arabia. Due to persecution, he fled to Jerusalem where he met St. Peter. He would make three major missionary trips during which he evangelized and established Christian communities in Cypress, Antioch, Tarsus, Asia Minor and Galatia, Thessalonica, Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus and elsewhere. Falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple, he was put in chains and imprisoned. A short time later, he was taken to Rome to appear before Caesar and released. However, Paul was martyred around the year 65 AD, during the persecution of Nero. He wrote 14 letters in which he manifested his fidelity and love for Christ. O God, who taught the whole world through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Paul, draw us, we pray, ever nearer to you through the example of him whose conversion we celebrate today, and make us witnesses to your truth in the world, until you come again in glory.

No comments :