Today’s the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
It’s interesting comparing the call of Paul the Apostle, vividly described in today’s first reading, to the call of the apostles recorded early on in the gospels.
Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee and called Peter and Andrew, James and John, then the rest of them, and told them to follow him. Come and see. They came and saw, they heard his teaching and saw the wonders he worked, not always understanding him. They grew in faith slowly, it seems. Their conversion was gradual, only complete when they experienced the mystery of his resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Our conversion seems more like that of Peter, Andrew and the other apostles than Paul’s conversion in a blinding moment. Our conversion is a gradual, lifetime process.
Paul’s conversion reminds us that conversion is primarily God’s work and God’s gift. Caravaggio’s dramatic painting of Paul on the flat of his back, arms outstretched, helplessly blind is a vivid picture of humanity before God. God alone gives the gift of faith.
That realization certainly inspired Paul as he grew in faith himself. God willed to save a sinful world. He himself was an example of God’s conquering grace.
St. John Chrysostom says of him: “Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue a human being is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardour and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead.
“When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them…
The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.”
May God save us.