Imagine being so sure of yourself that you went after people who believed in Christ, determined to harass them and discredit this new religious movement. Imagine travelling from one place to another and suddenly realizing that you had it all wrong. Imagine Christ himself speaking to you: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:5b)
Saul of Tarsus got off his high horse that day (although there is no mention of a horse in this account, artists have portrayed him falling off one in this scene). Suddenly, his zeal was for Christ; persecution was transformed into tireless proclamation of the gospel.
Today, on the feast of Paul’s conversion, we acknowledge his immense contribution to the Church over two millennia. He is one of the greatest religious leaders the world has ever known, and his words still ring out across the globe and in the hearts of Christians.
The Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters in the New Testament paint a portrait of this man from Tarsus who died around 62 AD. He welcomed Gentiles into the fold and shared the essence of the Christian message of salvation with people near and far, in person and by correspondence.
For many of us, Paul’s message boils down to this:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Cor. 13:4-8)
We’ve heard it countless times in the liturgy and at weddings. We may have memorized it. We measure ourselves against this description, hoping to live up to it but knowing that all too often we fail. Still, we feel strengthened to try again and love better next time.
Paul teaches us that love is a living thing – much bigger than each of us and with power to change the world.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13)
Saint Paul, pray for us!
Anne Louise Mahoney – Managing Editor, Novalis Books