The Conversion of St Paul

Apostle (occurred in 34)

Dear Polly,

I empathize with your disappointment.  I wish I had some words of explanation or comfort for you, but, frankly, I don’t.  It’s one of those impenetrable realities: why do some people hear Christ’s voice and respond, and others don’t?  We just have to trust God.  Of course, you shouldn’t curtail your efforts to explain the Catholic faith to those who are so vehemently against it.  It is no fault of yours that other groups on campus are violently angry with the Catholic student union – Christ’s standards are demanding, and they have always incited energetic resistance.  Take today’s saint for instance.

Paul was a young rabbi dedicated heart and soul to exterminating the Christian faith, right when it was just getting started!  He rounded up Christians and threw them into prisons, and worked for their execution.  They were blasphemers, in his mind, worthy of nothing but contempt and death.  To him, the Christian way of life was exactly opposite to what was true and laudable…  Sound familiar?  It sure sounds similar to the comments you sent me – statements accusing the Catholic Church of being “fundamentalist” and “intolerant” about abortion and homosexuality and women’s rights… So don’t think that you’re off track simply because you are inspiring opposition.

But don’t be discouraged by the battle either.  Remember, God is at work.  He was at work with St Paul.  Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, and in one fell swoop transformed the fire-breathing persecutor into a Spirit-breathing Apostle.  If it happened before (and Paul isn’t the only one, though he was certainly one of the first), it can happen again.  And it will.  And you shouldn’t give up on your efforts; persevere, stay the course, engage your “enemies” with patience and love, and watch God take over.

Of course, it’s not easy to do.  You need to have your own Pauline experience, so that in turn you can share it with others.  In that light, you may find it helpful to reflect on some words from one of the greatest homilies ever given on St Paul, by one of the Church’s greatest preachers, St John Chrystostom:

“The most important thing of all to Paul, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.  Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else; were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers.  He preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to be without that love and be among the great and honored.  To be separated from that love was, in his eyes, the greatest and most extraordinary of torments; the pain of that loss would alone have been hell, and endless, unbearable, torture.

“So too, in being loved by Christ he thought himself as possessing life, the world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings.  Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet.  Paul set no store by the things that fill our visible world, any more than a man sets value on the withered grass of the field.  As for tyrannical rulers or the people enraged against him, he paid them no more heed than gnats.  Death itself and pain and whatever torments might come were but child’s play to him, provided that thereby he might bear some burden for the sake of Christ.”

Ask St Paul to pray for you and your fellow “workers” to have that same experience of God’s love, and for your enemies to have it too.  In the meantime, I’ll be praying too.

Your loving uncle,


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