Today's Feast memorializes the fateful day when St. Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus. The meeting affected not only Saul of Tarsus but the entire world as well. The day that Saul became St. Paul is perhaps the single most important event in the history of the missionary activity of the Church.
St. Luke tells the story of St. Paul's conversion in both chapter nine and in chapter twenty-two of the Acts of the Apostles. St. Paul refers to the day he met Jesus on the road to Damascus in his First Letter to the Corinthians and the Letter to the Galatians. Each version or reference adds details to both the event and how it came to be understood by St. Paul. Depending upon the translation, the text indicates that there were witnesses to the event. However, only St. Paul both saw and heard Jesus. Because the story is told and retold in the Christian Scriptures, it is obvious that this was a popular story among the followers of Jesus.
The conversion story is also the basis for St. Paul contention that he was one of the apostles of Jesus. One of the key elements of their “pedigree” was that they were eye-witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. St. Paul contends that he saw Jesus alive, that just as Jesus appeared to the Twelve after the resurrection, he also appeared to Paul. He maintained throughout his life that he was also sent by Jesus just as the Twelve were sent from the upper room of Jerusalem.
One of the elements of the story that is both physical and metaphorical is that St. Paul was blinded by the experience. Later, after he was healed of his blindness by Ananias, he would use the experience to speak of how he had been blind but that he acquired the eyes of faith. As the saying goes, “Seeing is believing.” At the same time, Paul heard Jesus call him by name. From that moment on, Paul dedicated his life to making sure that other were to hear the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus.
As conversion stories go, St. Paul's story is probably the most dramatic; for through the direct intervention of Jesus, St. Paul was transformed from one of Christianity's most ardent persecutors to one of its most fervent evangelists. Our own experience of conversion is far more gradual and deliberate. Our experience of Jesus is more subtle. In fact, for many or most of us, conversion is a lifelong process.
Today's feast also brings to a close the week of prayer for Christianity unity. As we join with the rest of the Church in prayer today, may we find in St. Paul's story a reminder that each of us is called to turn to the Lord Jesus.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator