Monday, January 25, 2021, The Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle
Saul's Transformation to Paul
First Reading Commentary: Acts 9:1-22
Saul was given written permission from the high priests to take with him to the synagogues in Damascus allowing him to look for Followers of the Way and then take them back to Jerusalem in chains. At that time, followers of Jesus were known as Followers of the Way.
Whenever I hear about any kind of atrocity taking place in a place of worship, I ask myself how anyone could do such a thing. No matter what the religion, a place of worship is God’s house. To go to a place of worship with the intent of bringing any kind of harm to the people who worship there is among the highest orders of disrespect to God that anyone can give and it is among the most outrages of violations to the Greatest Commandments.
And yet, that is exactly what Saul was given written permission to do. So, when we, hear about people being attacked in their place of worship in today’s world and ask how anyone can do such a thing, we have, to remember Saul and consider the fact that sadly, it is nothing new.
In taking a close look at the conversion of Paul, we see right away that since the time of Christ, there have been those who have had a sincere and devout faith in God and yet possessed violent disrespect for God’s house. That is because there are those who are very much aware of God but do not follow God. Like Saul, they think that they do but their faith is completely misdirected. Such is the case with extremist today no matter what the religion. Their faith is real but totally misdirected.
On his way to Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed and a voice said to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?” The voice said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul were speechless because they heard the voice but could see no one. When Saul got up and opened his eyes, he could not see and had to be led by the hand into Damascus and for three days, he could not eat or drink.
Put yourself in this story. What would your reaction be if you were Saul? Would you be afraid, in total disbelief or overcome with awe and wonder? What if you were one of the men traveling with Saul? What would you do? Would you stay with Saul or run away out of fear?
Let’s take, a look at who Saul was. Saul was a Greek aristocrat born in Tarsus. He was also a Jew from the tribe of Benjamin and grew up in Jerusalem. Saul was also born a Roman citizen. It is believed that this privilege was given to Saul because his father had been granted citizenship for his service.
The name Saul was his Jewish birth name however, that name in Latin is Paul. Because he was a Roman citizen, he could use either name and decided to use Paul after his conversion because that name was more familiar to the Gentiles and we will later see that it is the Gentiles that Jesus wanted Paul to evangelize.
It is also important to remember that before the name Catholic was given to the Church around 110 A.D. by St. Ignatius of Antioch, people who believed in Christ and were baptized into the Church were known as followers of the Way.
Paul was not satisfied with just trying to stop the spread of the Word. He was out to destroy the Church completely and he even oversaw St. Stephen’s execution. It is widely believed that Jesus chose Paul to convert because in spite, of his zealous persecution of the Church, Paul believed that he was doing the right thing.
Paul was an extremist but not a hypocrite who was taken over by the devil with pride like the Pharisees. Paul was a devout Jew who knew the Law and totally believed in the Law and thought that he was upholding the Law by eliminating those who had become believers in Christ.
Why did Jesus appear to Paul as a bright light and why did Paul loose his sight? Paul was spiritually blind to the truth, so Jesus took Paul's sight away. I believe that because Paul was such a devout Jew, he knew that it was Jesus the moment that Jesus began to speak and even though Paul was physically blind, he began to see the Light and who the Light was.
There is a lesson for us in Paul loosing his sight. Jesus is the Light of the world and when we fail to follow His Light; we become blind. We may think that we see God, but it is the Light of Christ that leads us to God in heaven. Anything else is like a flash on a camera—nothing more than a flash of false light that will lead us to something which is nothing more than a picture—an imitation.
This appearance can also be compared to the Transfiguration where Jesus appeared as a bright light and the Father spoke from heaven. On the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Paul as a bright light and Jesus spoke from heaven Himself.
Paul chose Damascus because of its location. After the persecution of the believers started, they scattered to different areas. Damascus was a centrally located commercial area which made it a logical base of operations for spreading the Word. As, a result, it was believed that many followers of the Way were there.
The disciple Ananias was in Damascus and in a vision, the Lord told him to go to the house of Judas and look for a man from Tarsus named Saul and lay hands on him so that he could regain his sight. Ananias did not want to do this. He told the Lord that he had heard about Saul persecuting the believers. But the Lord told Ananias to go and lay hands on Saul because he had been chosen to evangelize the Gentiles. So, Ananias did as the Lord asked.
Do we follow the Lord when we are uncertain about something or do not understand it or consider it to be wrong? We usually try to find excuses that are based on human rationality and then do what we want to do.
That is not what Ananias did. Ananias was not afraid to let the Lord know that he believed that there was a good reason to stay away from Saul but When the Lord told Ananias that Paul was to be an instrument of the Lord's, Ananias followed the Lord in obedience and in faith.
Ananias told Paul that he had been sent, by the Lord to lay hands on him so that he could be filled, by the Spirit and regain his sight. As soon as Ananias laid hands on Paul, things like scales fell from Paul’s eyes and he regained his sight. He then got up and was baptized.
Although Paul was not a hypocrite like the other Pharisees, it was the evil one who was keeping Paul from being able to see the truth. We know that the devil is a serpent. I believe that it was the Holy Spirit working through Ananias which caused these scales (the devil’s lies—darkness) to fall off, of Paul’s eyes and be driven away from him.
There are a few things that we should meditate on here. Sometimes, we cannot see because the devil’s scales block our vision. If the devil cannot find his way deep within our hearts, he will find something good within us, turn it around and use it against us in an effort, to make us sin and thereby keep us away from Jesus. In Paul’s case, it was his zeal. But Jesus always wins against the devil and never abandons His sheep!
Paul is a prime example of this fact. Paul was being used by the devil and did not even realize it. But once he saw, the Light of Jesus, Paul allowed himself to be used by Jesus and began to use his zeal to proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God in the synagogues.
Once again, we have, to give praise and glory to our Lord. He never abandons us and He always reaches out to us no matter how broken or misguided we are. All we have, to do is open our eyes and ears and follow Him.
With Faith No Harm Can Come to Us
Gospel Commentary: Mark 16:15-18
Paul did not become an Apostle until after his conversion which was sometime after the Ascension of Christ into heaven. But we look at this Gospel on the Feast of Paul’s Conversion because he was commissioned, by Jesus to evangelize to the Gentiles. He testified to that in Acts of the Apostles and as the author of thirteen letters in the New Testament, Paul continues to carry out his mission today.
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He appeared to the eleven Apostles and told them to go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Jesus told the Apostles that those who believed and were baptized would be saved but that those who did not believe would be condemned.
This is not the first time that Jesus told the Apostles that the Good News of the Gospel was for people of all nations. It is also not the first time that Jesus told the Apostles to baptize. But here, Jesus declared that those who were with faith and baptized, would be saved.
But Jesus also said that those who did not believe would be condemned. Does this mean that if someone is not baptized that they cannot be saved? Not at all. What it means is that if someone deliberately chooses to ignore or deny the divinity of Christ, they cannot be believers in God because God is the Trinity with Christ as the Son. Anyone who deliberately chooses to deny God will not be accepted by God.
Does this mean that anyone who was raised in a religion outside of Christianity cannot be saved and enter into heaven? Once again, not at all. If a person only knows one way of believing because that is the only way that they were taught, they have not sinned. Remember, to sin is to deliberately choose to commit an act which one knows to be wrong.
What I find interesting is that Non-Christians who do not know any different do not condemn other religions outside of their own. Instead, they respect all religions even though their faith is different.
Because someone professes their faith in a religion which is different than theirs does not mean that the person does not believe in God and that person deserves the same respect as a child of God as everyone else. How many Christians persecute other religions because they are different? Answer: too many and those people become the accusers being guilty of the crime!
Jesus gave signs that would accompany those people who believed in His name. Jesus said that they would drive out demons, speak new languages and heal the sick.
The Apostles did not know it at the time, but as Jesus was preparing to ascend into heaven, He was giving the Apostles their final instructions and He was telling them that they would be strengthened, by the Holy Spirit so that they could do all, of these things. This happened ten days after the Ascension, on Pentecost Sunday as the Holy Spirit descended on Mary and the Apostles and they began to speak in tongues.
Jesus also said that believers would be able to pick up serpents and be unharmed by deadly drink. Does this mean that we can go and pick up deadly snakes or drink poison without anything happening to us? Not in a physical sense. But spiritually no harm can come to us because there is nothing here on earth that can keep us from salvation and there is nothing that the devil can do to us which will keep us from the Kingdom unless we allow him. As, long as we keep our faith and put forth our very best effort to live according, to God’s ways; nothing can harm us in a spiritual way and heaven is ours.
As long as we keep our hearts open to the Lord, we can see His light and no matter how deep in sin we are, like St Paul, we will change our ways and we will be saved.