Today the Church celebrates the conversion of one of the greatest followers of Jesus: the apostle Saint Paul. When we first meet Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, he is clearly a young rabbi who had a hatred for the followers of Jesus. As St. Stephen was being stoned, those who took part in his martyrdom laid their cloaks at Paul’s feet. This zealot is described as entering house after house and dragging men and women out to hand them over for imprisonment (cf. Acts 8:3b). 

As Paul approached Damascus with letters to bring back to Jerusalem any followers of the Way, Jesus met him. Surrounded by blinding light, Paul, who had been “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” was humbled to the ground. Instead of speaking, he was made to listen. This heart that had been filled with such hatred for the followers of Jesus, suddenly and immediately found a love beyond his comprehension from the very one he had been persecuting.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” Jesus told him. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do” (v 5-6).

Paul’s call, his conversion, left him blind, and like a child he was led into Damascus where he was baptized three days later by Ananias, a member of the community of disciples he had intended to round up and take back to Jerusalem for punishment.

Paul was called. Paul was converted, changed, transformed. Paul was baptized so that he would carry out the mission Jesus had chosen him for: to go into the whole world, far beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem, to proclaim the good news to every creature. 

Paul’s call has become the paradigm of every Christian calling since. We are called not for ourselves, but for others. We are loved, not to hold that sense of God’s love for us close to our own hearts, but to give it away to as many people as possible. We are transformed that we might radiate to the world what it is to be truly human, truly Christ-like, totally Christian. In other words, today’s feast is a window onto the most important task you and I have on this earth: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

After Paul regained his sight, he immediately began to preach to the Jews of Damascus about Jesus. He was met with disbelief and threats against his life. Paul had to learn that this mission to go to the very ends of the earth spurred on by the love of Christ, though a huge task, wasn’t going to be accomplished on his own terms. Eventually he was sent away by the disciples to Tarsus. For three years he waited in study and prayer until Barnabas remembered him and thought he might be able to help out the community in Antioch. 

The Church is given a great commission to proclaim the gospel to every creature, and yet in our experience the best and the brightest and the most promising people are often sidelined or walk away. People don’t get along and it seems that perfect opportunities are missed. There is so much to do we want to get started right away, throwing ourselves into the project, and God tells us to wait and study and pray. We devise strategies and develop plans, and God undoes them all to bring about his own. Sometimes I feel that these are the signs that accompany those who believe. More than healing the sick and driving out demons, speaking new languages and picking up serpents with our bare hands, God leaves us in confusion and humility as we wait upon his Word. What set-back or suffering are you bearing for the sake of the Gospel?

You and I are commissioned to share with every person on this earth the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. To whom is God sending you today to share the good news?

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