Our yearly church calendar celebrates saints from every age and place because saints are examples of God’s grace present always and everywhere. But some saints are singled out in the liturgy for their importance. One is St. Paul the Apostle, whose dramatic conversion is celebrated on January 25th. His martyrdom, along with Peter, is celebrated June 29th and we read extensively from his writings throughout the church year.
An account of Paul’s conversion ( Acts 22: 3-13) – one of three found in the Acts of the Apostles – is read first at his feast day Mass. St. Luke devotes much of the Acts to Paul’s missionary journeys ending in Rome. In Mark’s gospel for the feast, Jesus, appearing to this disciples after his resurrection, tells them to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16: 15-18)
Paul fulfilled that command of Jesus. He writes to the Corinthians:
“I am the least of the apostles; in fact, since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle; but by God’s grace that is what I am, and the grace that he gave me has not been fruitless. On the contrary, I have worked harder than any of the others: or rather, not I but the grace of God that is with me. ( 1 Corthinians 15:9-10)
St. Paul is an example of how far we can rise, from the depths to the heights, and for that reason the church celebrates his conversion. Paul never forgot that God’s grace raised him from the dust to become a powerful force in his church and in the world. Paul never forgot he was a Pharisee, intent on eradicating the followers of Jesus who became one of his most loyal disciples. His conversion gave him a boldness that carried him fearlessly to the ends of the earth
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Jesus says to him from a blinding light. From that meeting Paul received the gift of faith and a mission to bring faith to the gentile world. He never forgot the moment he was blinded by a light that made him see.
“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… ” ( St. John Chrysostom)
O God, who taught the whole world
through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Paul,
draw us, we pray, nearer to you
through the example of him whose conversion we celebrate today,
and so make us witnesses to your truth in the world.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.