I believe this feast is unique in the liturgical life of the Church. Most saints have their dies natalis – actually the day of their birth into heaven – commemorated in the liturgical calendar. A few: Mary, Saint John the Baptist, and of course Jesus himself, has a feast around their birth. One could also say the Church’s birthday is commemorated on the feast of Pentecost. Some saints even had odd feasts like the commemoration of their translatio – the moving of their remains into a shrine – as a feast day. For Saint Peter we commemorate the feast of his chair – his role as bishop. But I have not been able to find another feast that commemorates a conversion, so that should give us pause.
I occasionally deal with people who have worries that the Church seems to be continually changing. I like to say that if we don’t want the Church to be changed and renewed, we should stop baptizing people. Every time we baptize someone – an infant or an adult, the Church is renewed. The Church is different because you and I have been baptized and, whether gradually from infancy, or at a moment of our adult life, we have been converted to Christ. Because we are dealing with members in the billions, it seems that each of our conversions may not make a difference, but each is precious. In our parish, each of us contributes by giving of our time, treasure, and talent. In these smaller groups of the faithful, we can sometimes see the effect of our efforts, but even here, most of the time, the way our conversion has changed someone’s experience of Church might never be known to us. When we were gathering in church, this could be something as simple as nodding to whomever is seated in the same pew as us, or smiling supportively to a single mother who might be struggling to keep it all together. And now that we are gathering in different ways, calling and chatting with members of the community that you would normally see weekly can be a way to remind people how important their conversion and membership in the Church can be. The role of the receptionist, or whoever answers the phone at our parishes, is vital in these times when they may be the only face the Church has.
Finally, the conversion of Saint Paul reminds us that one person can make a huge difference. The conversion of Paul was not only an important moment for him, but it ultimately opened the Church to the whole of the Gentile world. Without Saint Paul we likely would have remained a relatively small movement, probably not expanding beyond the land of Israel. So it is worth our time and effort to learn something about Peter and Paul, about Mary, and the other saints of the Old and New Testament. Little is known about Lydia and Dorcas, but they had a huge impact on the Church, and saints throughout the ages have done as much and more. They are examples not only of conversion and holiness, but also of how we can make a difference, in this time and place.
So let us all celebrate Paul’s conversion, and be converted even more deeply to the life of faith in community.
Glenn Byer has been making music for the Mass for 40 years, and has been writing about and offering courses and workshops on liturgy for more than 30 years. He holds a Master’s in liturgy from the University of Notre Dame, and a doctorate in liturgy from the Pontifical Institute for Liturgy at the Atheneaum of Sant’Anselmo in Rome. Glenn has written numerous books, among them: 26 Ordinary Ways to Live the Liturgy, Unlocking the Feasts and Seasons of the Liturgical Year and Living the Liturgy of the Word.