We celebrated the Conversion of Saint Paul on Friday. As I prayed about this, something interesting struck me. We were celebrating his conversion. It wasn’t the feast day of St. Paul (June 29 – Feast of Saints Peter and Paul), it was the feast day of his conversion. Just his conversion. Not the day we commemorate his ship wreck in Malta (Feb 10) or the dedication of his Basilica in Rome (November 18). Friday was just about his conversion. And what a conversion it was! On his way to round up some Christians to take them to be tortured and killed, he is knocked off his horse by a bright light and Jesus asks him to stop persecuting him. He is struck blind by the light and later regains is sight when meeting up with a Christian later.
I might be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure Paul’s is the only conversion we celebrate with its own feast day. I was trying to think why that’s the case. Perhaps it’s because there is so much for us to gain by reflecting on Paul’s conversion. It is not just a great story; it’s an opportunity for hope. If Paul, one of the meanest, baddest, persecutors of the Church can be radically transformed into one of her biggest evangelists, there’s certainly hope for me, for all of us. Paul persecuted Jesus by rounding up his followers to be killed. We persecute Jesus by turning away from him and going down our own road when we sin. If Paul can be transformed, certainly so can I.
And what was it that transformed Paul? What changed him from a man with a zealous faith that motivated him to ride around persecuting Christians to a man with a zealous faith that motivated him to travel the earth as he knew it spreading the Gospel? A flash of bright light? A desire to stop riding horses and start sailing in ships? No, it was an encounter with Jesus. It wasn’t knowledge of Jesus, not hearing about him, for certainly Paul had heard all about Jesus, he knew his claims to be the Son of God, the Messiah. He met Jesus, and his life was changed forever. He met Jesus, and our lives were changed forever.
After having this personal encounter with Jesus, Paul didn’t just stop killing Christians, he traveled the world preaching Jesus and converting multitudes to Christianity. Tons of the New Testament was written by Paul, without his letters, where would our faith be today?
This Feast of Paul’s Conversion reminds us of the transformative power of a personal encounter and relationship with Jesus. If we open ourselves to that relationship. If we really let our relationship with Jesus sink deep into our hearts, it will not only change our lives, but the lives of others.