The conversion of St. Paul

By Fr. Roy Cimagala

JANUARY 25 is marked liturgically as the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, one of the very dramatic stories in the history of the Church. It reminds of many things, among them that no matter how much of a sinner and an enemy of God one is, there is always hope.

In fact, there seems to be some correlation between a big sinner and a great apostle, once conversion occurs, somehow validating that philosophical principle that if the corruption of the best is the worst, then the conversion of the worst is also the best.

Yes, there is hope, because God never abandons us. He will do everything to save us. Remember what the gospel says: “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.” (Jn 3,17) We know how Christ offered his life as a ransom or expiation for our sins. There is always hope.

And the conversion story of St. Paul has been replicated in the lives of many people, some of them canonized as saints already. One such case is that of St. Augustine.

One interesting detail of the conversion story is that part where Paul, then called Saul, heard a voice that said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 22,7)

Those words expose a lot of very interesting implications. One is that since Paul was persecuting the early Christians, we can then conclude that that voice, which must be the voice of Christ from heaven, is telling us that persecuting Christians or persecuting the Church is persecuting Christ himself.

Another implication could be that each Christian is actually “another Christ,” for after all we are all patterned after Christ since our faith tells us that we have been created in the image and likeness of God, and Christ is that perfect image and likeness of God, the very Word of God who reveals God to us.

That is why this feast is also associated with the pursuit for Christian unity since it reminds us that we are meant to be all Christians, to be one Church founded by Christ. That there is division among Christians, let alone, the non-Christians, is not in keeping with God’s plan for the whole of humanity.

Of course, this Christian unity is not uniformity. There can be some variety, but insofar as faith, the sacraments, the governing and teaching hierarchy are concerned, there should be unity, not diversity.

This Christian unity starts with each one’s unity of life based on one’s vital identification and unity with Christ. This definitely requires of us a continuing conversion and growth in our spiritual life, in our relationship with God and with everybody else.

That is also why this pursuit for Christian unity involves the effort to carry out the indispensable mission to do apostolate that should be universal in scope, in spite of the incredible impossibility of that pursuit, what with all the sacrifices, trials and challenges that will be involved.

Let’s make as our own that most ardent prayer of Christ before he entered into his passion and death. “I pray…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us…” (Jn 17,20-21) Christ prayed that we be “consummati in unum,” that we be completely one.

Have a meaningful celebration of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul!