Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul
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Feast (1969 Calendar): January 25
Greater Double (1955 Calendar): January 25

Today the Church celebrates its only feast that is centered on someone's conversion. Today is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. We remember and also realize how extraordinary it was. Through God's divine light on the Road to Damascus, St. Paul came not only to believe in Jesus but serve Him until his death. Through St. Paul's preaching, the Church was formed. His conversion was fundamental but others have in our time experienced this same conversion.

Today is also the final day in the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Acts of the Apostles 9:1-22
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to Him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying, and he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of My name." So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and took food and was strengthened.

For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, "He is the Son of God." And all who heard him were amazed, and said, "Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests." But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
THE CONVERSION OF SAINT PAUL by Dom Gueranger
We have already seen how the Gentiles, in the person of the Three Magi, offered their mystic gifts to the Divine Child of Bethlehem, and received from Him, in return, the precious gifts of faith, hope, and charity. The harvest is ripe; it is time for the reaper to come. But who is to be God's laborer? The Apostles of Christ are still living under the very shadow of mount Sion. All of them have received the mission to preach the gospel of salvation to the uttermost parts of the world; but not one among them has, as yet, received the special character of Apostle of the Gentiles. Peter, who had received the Apostleship of Circumcision (Gal. ii. 8), is sent specially, as was Christ Himself, to the sheep that are lost of the house of Israel (Matt. xv. 24). And yet, as he is the Head and the Foundation, it belongs to him to open the door of Faith to the Gentiles (Acts, xiv. 26); which he solemnly does, by conferring Baptism on Cornelius, the Roman Centurion. 
But the Church is to have one more Apostle--an Apostle for the Gentiles--and he is to be the fruit of the martyrdom and prayer of St. Stephen. Saul, a citizen of Tarsus, has not seen Christ in the flesh, and yet Christ alone can make an Apostle. It is then, from heaven, where He reigns impassible and glorified, that Jesus will call Saul to be His disciple, just as, during the period of his active life, He called the fishermen of Genesareth to follow Him and hearken to His teachings. 
The Son of God will raise Saul up to the third heaven, and there will reveal to him all His mysteries: and when Saul, having come down again to this earth, shall have seen Peter (Gal. i. 18), and compared his Gospel with that recognized by Peter (Gal. ii. 2)--he can say, in all truth, that he is an Apostle of Christ Jesus (Gal. i. I), and that he has done nothing less than the great Apostles (II Cor. xi. 5). 
It is on this glorious day of the Conversion of Saul, who is soon to change his name into Paul, that this great work is commenced. It is on this day, that is heard the Almighty voice which breaketh the cedars of Libanus (Ps. xxviii. 5), and can make a persecuting Jew become first a Christian, and then an Apostle. This admirable transformation had been prophesied by Jacob, when, upon his death-bed, he unfolded to each of his sons the future of the tribe of which he was to be the father. Juda was to have the precedence of honor, since from his royal race, was to be born the Redeemer, the Expected of nations. Benjamin's turn came; his glory is not to be compared with that of his brother Juda, and yet it was to be very great-- for from his tribe is to be born Paul, the Apostle of the Gentile nations. 
These are the words of the dying Prophet: Benjamin, a ravenous wolf, in the morning shall eat the prey, and in the evening shall divide the spoil (Gen. xlix. 27). An ancient writer (long thought to have been St. Augustine) asks, Who is he, that in the morning of impetuous youth, goes like a wolf in pursuit of the sheep of Christ, breathing threatenings and slaughter against them? Is it not Saul on the road to Damascus, the bearer and doer of the high-priest's orders, and stained with the blood of Stephen, whom he has stoned by the hands of all those over whose garments he kept watch? And he, who, in the evening, not only does not despoil, but with a charitable and peaceful hand, breaks to the hungry the bread of life--is it not Paul, of the tribe of Benjamin, the Apostle of Christ, burning with zeal for his brethren, making himself all to all, and wishing even to be an anathema for their sakes? 
Oh! the power of our dear Jesus! how wonderful! how irresistible! He wishes that the first worshipers at His Crib should be humble Shepherds--and He invites them by His Angels, whose sweet hymn was enough to lead these simple-hearted men to the Stable, where lies, in swaddling-clothes, He who is the hope of Israel. He would have the Gentile Princes, the Magi, do Him homage--and bids to arise in the heavens a Star, whose mysterious apparition, joined to the interior speaking of the Holy Ghost, induces these men of desire to come from the far East, and lay, at the feet of an humble Babe, their riches and their hearts. 
When the time is come for forming the Apostolic College, He approaches the banks of the sea of Tiberias, and with this single word: Follow me, He draws after Him such as He wishes to have as His Disciples. In the midst of all the humiliations of His Passion, He has but to look at the unfaithful Peter, and Peter is a penitent. 
Today, it is from heaven that He evinces His power: all the mysteries of our redemption have been accomplished, and He wishes to show mankind that He is the sole author and master of the Apostolate, and that His alliance with the Gentiles is now perfect. He speaks; the sound of His reproach bursts like thunder over the head of this hot Pharisee, who is bent on annihilating the Church; He takes this heart of the Jew, and, by His grace, turns it into the heart of the Apostle, the Vessel of election, the Paul who is afterwards to say of himself: I live not I, but Christ liveth in me. (Gal. ii. 20) 
The commemoration of this great event was to be a Feast in the Church, and it had a right to be kept as near as might be to the one which celebrates the martyrdom of St. Stephen, for Paul is the Protomartyr's convert. The anniversary of his martyrdom would, of course, have to be solemnized at the summer-solstice. Where, then, place the Feast of his Conversion if not near Christmas, and thus our own Apostle would be at Jesus' Crib, and Stephen's side? Moreover, the Magi could claim him, as being the conqueror of that Gentile-world, of which they were the first-fruits.
St. Paul's conversion is "The Example" of how anyone can come to believe and follow our Savior. While we may not be struck by a blinding light on the Road to Damascus as St. Paul was, we too must experience the light of the Gospel changing our hearts.

Remember too, that St. Paul persecuted Christians as is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. The first martyr, St. Stephen, was sentenced to death by St. Paul. But, through God's love each of us can be converted. Conversion is a life-long process where the end result of a true conversion is Heaven. Just like St. Paul, anyone can find God, and likewise, we must pray for unbelievers.

Prayer:

O God, Who hast taught the whole world by the preaching of blessed Paul the Apostle: grant, we beseech Thee, that we who this day celebrate his conversion, may through his example draw nearer to Thee.

Prayer Source: 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal

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