On January 25th we celebrated the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. His original name was Saul of Tarsus. He was a Pharisee part of the Jewish religious establishment. So when he heard about the emergence of the followers of the Christ or the New Way, what the early Christians were called then, he saw this as a threat to the Jewish religion. So, it was then that he relentlessly persecuted the Christians. On his way to Damascus, he met the Lord. A sudden and bright light from heaven struck him, and he fell to the ground. And he heard the voice of the Lord:"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting."|
There are several important lessons we can learn from this celebration. First, Jesus identified Himself with His followers. Jesus said: "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Indeed, Jesus has always been true to His promise: "I will be with you always until the end of time." That is why, in the midst of life's trials and tribulations, we should take courage from the Lord's assurance: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst." A reminder to all of us in dealing with one another. We should always be conscious of the presence of the Lord among our fellow humans. We treat one another with love and compassion, for as Jesus said, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me."
Second, after that encounter on the road, Saul did not immediately proclaim the Gospel. Instead he went into Arabia and later returned to Damascus to receive instructions and guidance from Ananias. It was only after three years that he began his ministry. In other words, that encounter on the road was just the beginning of a long journey of conversion. Conversion to the Lord is a long process. For Saul, it took him three years of prayer, soul searching and reflections on God's Word. This equipped him with all the necessary graces to finally embark on the great task of spreading the Gospel of Christ.
But conversion is just half of the story. St. Paul himself avoided using the word "conversion" in reference to that encounter with the Lord on the road to Damascus. In his Letter to the Galatians 1:15-16, he describes the event, not as conversion, but as the moment of his calling. In short, his conversion is directed towards one purpose: the proclamation of the Gospel. From Saul, he became Paul, acquiring a new name to signify a new mission and direction in life.
This feast reminds us that as Christians, we are essentially missionary. The faith we received is meant to be shared. And the more we share it, the stronger and more vibrant it becomes. In this time when telling the truth becomes more of a risk than an advantage, when people are accustomed to easily believe the media filled with commercial and political propaganda rather than the Word of God, this missionary vocation of Christians becomes truly necessary and vital.
May the conversion of Saint Paul and his zeal and courage inspire us to return to God and be active instruments in the spread of the Gospel.
Rev'd. Fr. Colin Humes