God has many ways of getting our attention. The angel appeared to Mary out of nowhere. Moses stumbled into a burning bush. Elijah heard whispers. Peter caught a boatload of fish. Saul of Tarsus hit the ground, stunned. Today we celebrate a knockdown.
Saul of Tarsus was a righteous man. A Pharisee. He had been educated strictly in the Jewish ancestral law and was zealous for God. To the people who mattered to him, he was very successful, full of zeal, and confident in his mission: to find Christians in Damascus and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains for punishment.
However, as he was getting close to Damascus, a light suddenly flashed from the sky; he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” The Lord shook him up, blinded him, threw him to the ground, and left him confused and unnerved for three days. In Damascus, he regained his sight, was baptized, and began at once to proclaim in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
As Paul continued this new mission, he became a significant force in the Church. Letters he wrote to encourage the churches he started in Asia Minor now compose two-thirds of the New Testament. Paul’s conversion not only changed him; it changed the Church; it changed the world.
As we celebrate Paul’s conversion, we also celebrate his mission. The first reading tells of his conversion, and the gospel speaks of his mission to “Go into all the world and preach the Good News.” Paul’s conversion and mission are extraordinary, unique, dramatic, and significant.
We see in Paul’s conversion experience the essential core of every conversion: meeting Jesus Christ. When Paul meets Jesus, his life is dramatically changed. He becomes dependent on other followers of Jesus who compose the Church, which is Christ’s body on earth, and he receives a new mission.
Our conversion journey also needs this lesson. It is impossible to serve the Lord while persecuting our brothers and sisters. Anything we do to them, even the smallest, is done to him. For us to see what we are doing to others, the Lord sometimes has to surprise us or even knock us down.
The conversion of St. Paul is exceptionally dramatic, and St. Paul spends the rest of his life preaching, living, and suffering for the body of Christ he once tried to extinguish. We may not have had a conversion as dramatic as St. Paul’s, but we have been chosen by God to testify to what we have seen and heard. We are his instruments. As we encounter Jesus on the road to life, we have good news to share with others: hard hearts can be softened, spiritual blindness can be cured, and sinners can become saints.
What has God done to get your attention? What have you done in response? What is your conversion story?
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