The following is a reflection by Associate Bonnie Chester:
“From terrible sinner to saint, from persecutor to persuasive preacher, Paul gives us all hope: no matter what kind of life we have lived, we can change. Indeed, we can be welcomed back into the fold,”1 a quote I read a few years ago on his and St. Peter’s feast day, June 29.
When we first meet Saul in the Acts of the Apostles, he is on a rampage, persecuting the followers of Jesus. “Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the church;* entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment.” Acts 8:3–4
Yet after his conversion, Paul, along with his fellow preacher, Peter, became two of the most articulate leaders of the early Church. It was Paul who took to heart the words of Peter: “God shows no partiality.” Acts 10:34 He understood that Jesus Christ was the Lord of All, not only to the Jewish followers, but to all the Gentiles. The spectacular growth of Christianity among the Gentiles of that time was due in large part to Paul’s efforts. Way to go, Paul! The good news was for everybody.
Now, as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from Heaven flashed around him. “He fell to the ground….” Acts 9:3 His mode of travel could have been a horse since Damascus was not around the corner from Jerusalem! It would have been a lengthy journey by foot. Paul is blinded and led to a man in Jerusalem named Ananias. Ananias is not so sure he wants to confront this scoundrel. But the Lord appears to Ananias in a vision asking him to intervene and lay his hands on Paul “that he may regain his sight.” Acts 9:12 I don’t know about you, but I would have been a little hesitant, too. I think it would have been a little risky, to say the least. But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites.” Acts 9:15
Thus, the spread of Christianity began. As I think about this story, two things remain with me to strengthen my faith. One is the word conversion: Paul’s is very dramatic, happening in an instant and certainly eye-opening. His life is turned upside down, he goes from being a bad guy, persecuting the new Christians, to a good guy, making him one of history’s greatest evangelists. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone who has experienced that kind of conversion. For most of us, there are hopefully many small conversions, maybe an inspiring talk, an uplifting church service, or a weekend retreat. God gradually opens our eyes (not striking us to the ground and blinding us, I hope) to His mercy and goodness and our need for Him and for His salvation. It doesn’t have to be an earth-shattering event. The little daily things we can do to strengthen our faith will ultimately bring about a conversion that will draw us to Him, slowly but surely!
The other thing that I often think about are the times when I have been the bad guy. St. Paul is my hero—if he can do it, so can I. There is hope for me yet. I relish in God’s forgiveness, mercy and love. Paul gives us all hope. No matter what kind of life we have lived, we can change. The words of the song Amazing Grace come to mind: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
I encourage you to spend some time reading the story of Saul’s conversion in your Bible, Acts 8–10.
Lord, open my eyes to the things in my life that bring about my conversion. Help me to avoid the pitfalls that lead me away from You. Help me to follow your call. Amen.
- Mel Robbins, Positive Living, Catholic Reflections, News, Podcasts