Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Usually this feast would not be celebrated when it occurs on a Sunday, but we celebrate it here in our Archdiocese as it will be celebrate in many other Archdiocese and Dioceses throughout the world because our beloved Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI declared a Jubilee Year of St. Paul from June 29, 2008 to June 29, 2009, celebrating the 2,000 years since his birth[1].

We all know the scene of St. Paul’s conversion. There is the road to Damascus as Saul of Tarsus led a group of fervent Pharisees to go and cleanse that city of its followers of Christ. We have seen the paintings of the bright light with Christ in the middle, of the horse throwing Saul, and of his companions falling in fear. Actually, there is no horse in the scripture, Saul probably couldn’t afford one, but that is beside the point. The point is that Jesus appears to Saul and asks him, “Why are you persecuting me?” No persecuting the Christians, but me. Jesus identifies with His Church, with us. Saul, as you know, is blinded. Fitting. He had been blind to God’s presence among the Christians. It would take one of these Christians Ananais, to help Saul receive his sight and recognize God in the Messiah.

Although this feast celebrates that event, Paul’s conversion did not end on that road. It began on the road. He would go on to suffer for the faith. In Second Corinthians Paul states that five times he received forty lashes less one, three times he was beaten with rods, once he was stoned, three times he was shipwrecked along with all sorts of other persecutions. Far more difficult than these persecutions was “the thorn in the flesh” he speaks of in 2 Corinthians 12. What was this, exactly? Was the thorn his temper? He often lost his temper, even with Peter Jerusalem. Was it some sort of temptation to sin? Was it physical ailments? We don’t know. But we do know that Paul realized his complete dependence on Jesus, whose “power was made perfect in my weakness[2], one thing is for sure, and Paul’s conversion began on the road to Damascus, but was not completed until his final moments before his execution in Rome. Nor is ours.

We may be cradle Catholics or we may have come into the faith through the RCIA[3]. We may have always been united to God, or we may have strayed away and then come back. Our decision to embrace our baptism, perhaps to return to the Lord, is certainly a conversion, but it is only the beginning of the conversion. Through the Grace of God, our entire lives are consecutive moments of conversion, deepening conversion. Our entire liturgical year leads us to deepen our union with the Lord. Advent and Lent help us look at our lives and call upon the Lord to pick us up after we fall. Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, call us to a deeper commitment to the Presence of God as one of us, to the Grace of our Baptism, to the work of the Spirit.

Can we do it? Can each of us be the person that God created us to be? Alone, no. We cannot. But we are not alone. St. Paul tells us in what is perhaps the most assuring sentence for all of us who join him in the process of conversion: I can do all things in Him who strengthens me [4]

[1] “And for this very reason I am pleased to announce officially that we shall be dedicating a special Jubilee Year to the Apostle Paul from 28 June 2008 to 29 June 2009, on the occasion of the bi-millennium of his birth, which historians have placed between the years 7 and 10 A.D.” Pope Benedict XVI, June 28, 2007. First Vespers of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul.
[2] 2 Corinthians 12:19
[3] The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (often abbreviated RCIA) is the process through which interested adults are gradually introduced to the Roman Catholic faith and way of life. Children who were not baptized as infants are also initiated through an adapted process of this rite, sometimes mistakenly referred to as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Children (RCIC).
[4] Philippians 4:13.

Ilustration: Christoph Daniel Schenck, The Conversion of Paul (1685) Limewood 14 7/16 x 10 5/16 in. 96.SD.4.1, The Getty Museum.

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris