St. Paul: The Most Resounding Conversion in History

Saul’s self-sufficiency had been replaced by Paul’s humility. The fanatical Pharisee, persecutor of Christians, had died; the giant of the Faith that would dazzle the Church was born.

Newsroom (26/01/2022 09:26, Gaudium PressWith the sacrifice of the first martyr, St. Stephen, a violent persecution began against the Jerusalem Church, forcing the faithful to disperse throughout Judea, Samaria, Syria, and the island of Cyprus. Only the Apostles remained a little longer in the Holy City.

A Pharisee stood out for his hatred against the followers of Jesus. Not being of legal age to stone Stephen, Saul merely took care of the cloaks of the executioners.

In fact, his hatred for Christians led him to ask the chief priest for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, in order to bring the Christians he found there bound to Jerusalem.

The most resounding conversion in history

Who was this Saul?

Around the year 3 of our era, he was born in Tarsus, Cilicia, a city then famous as a commercial and intellectual center.

His family belonged to the tribe of Benjamin and enjoyed the right of Roman citizenship. As a young man, he studied in Jerusalem at the school of the well-known Gamaliel. But everything leads us to believe that he stayed only a few years in this city, and did not get to know Jesus personally, according to some authors.

When we find him again in Jerusalem, he is in the front rank of the persecutors of the Christians.

His wonderful conversion on the road to Damascus, the most resounding in history, took place around the year 35. He was about 32 years old.

The episode in which, suddenly surrounded by a bright light, he fell to the ground and heard a voice coming from heaven is well known:

– Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?

– Who are you, Lord?

– I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.

– Lord, what do you want me to do? – the hitherto proud Pharisee asked trembling.

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– Get up, go into the city. There you will be told what to do,” answered Jesus.

And Saul got up and realized that he was blind.

For great evils, great remedies. What a sovereign manifestation of God, reducing to impotence the one who thought he could do anything! Blind, he knew only that he had to go to Damascus: There you will be told what you must do?

Saul’s self-sufficiency had been replaced by Paul’s humility. The fanatical Pharisee, persecutor of Christians, had died; the giant of the Faith that would dazzle the Church was born. Everything about the Apostle Paul is great.

In Damascus, Ananias restored his sight and baptized him. Then, the new convert spent three years in the Arabian desert being instructed by Jesus himself.

Returning to the Syrian capital, he preached the Christian faith with such zeal and success that the Jews, furious, tried to kill him. But the disciples brought him down the wall at night in a basket. Fleeing to Jerusalem, he tried to join the Christians there, but everyone feared him, not believing in his conversion.

So Barnabas introduced him to the Apostles, telling how in Damascus Paul had boldly preached the name of Jesus.

He stayed only a short time in the Holy City, for there, too, some Jews wanted to kill him. Jesus himself appeared to him, warning him: “Hurry and get out of Jerusalem immediately, because they will not receive your testimony about me. Go, for I will send you far away to the nations.

A mighty evangelizing epic

With this mandate from the Divine Master, the Apostle began his epic of evangelization among the Gentiles. He left for Tarsus, and from there went with Barnabas to Antioch, where they formed a large community of believers. In this city, Jesus’ disciples were first called Christians, to distinguish them from the Jews and the Gentiles.

On the island of Cyprus, where the two Apostles headed, we see an example of Paul’s evangelizing fire. The proconsul Sergius Paulus, a sensible man, desired to hear the word of God. But Barjesus, a magician, sought to lead this Roman magistrate away from the faith.

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So Paul stared at the false prophet and said, “Son of the devil, full of all deceit and all cunning, enemy of all righteousness, do not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord! Behold, now the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind. You shall not see the sun until further notice!”

Seeing the magician soon reduced to blindness, the proconsul embraced the faith, vividly admiring the Lord’s doctrine. Nevertheless, the city authorities expelled the two Apostles at the instigation of the Jews.

They fearlessly preached the Gospel in successive cities, sometimes accompanied by wonderful miracles and numerous conversions, which caused persecution by the rulers of the local synagogues.

God wants to work miracles through the saints

God gave some of his disciples the power, in his name, to heal the sick, to cast out demons, and even to raise the dead.

St. Paul made ample use of this power, to attract and confirm in the Faith those to whom he preached. In the city of Lystra, he commanded a man who was lame from birth, “Stand up straight on your feet!” This man leaped up and started walking. Impressed, at first the people wanted to worship him as a god.

But, manipulated by some Jews, they ended up stoning Paul. Judging him dead, they dragged him out of the city. The Apostle was later saved by his disciples.

On the island of Malta, he healed the governor’s father by laying his hands on him. Knowing this, the inhabitants hastened to bring him all the sick of the island, and all were healed.

And in Troas, Paul resuscitated a young man who, during a late-night preaching, fell asleep, fell from the third floor, and died.

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It would be too long to enumerate these prodigious facts. Let us mention only one more, very interesting to show how Our Lord Jesus Christ is pleased with the cult to the relics of the saints.

The book of the Acts of the Apostles (19:11) says: “God worked unusual miracles through Paul, so that handkerchiefs and other cloths that had touched his body were brought to the sick, and diseases departed from them and evil spirits were driven away.”

He fought the good fight, received the crown of righteousness in Heaven

While imprisoned in Rome, the indefatigable Apostle did not stop preaching and obtained the conversion of countless souls.

Released early in 64, he went to Spain and Asia. Returning to Rome, he was arrested again, this time with St. Peter. They stayed in the oldest prison in Rome, the Mamertine Prison, a place full of blessings, which touches all who pass through there.

At the end of his heroic life, the Apostle of the Gentiles could sing this hymn of triumph of the man who feels his conscience clear when he meets the Supreme Judge:

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished my career, I have kept the faith. Now it remains for me to receive the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who await his appearing with love.”

Great was his life, such will be his death.

Being a Roman citizen, St. Paul could not be crucified. He was thus beheaded by the sword in the year 67.

Tradition tells us that his head, rolling on the ground, jumped three times and made three fountains sprout that can still be seen today in the Church of San Paolo alle Tre Fontane, in Via d’Ostia, in Rome.

Text adapted from the magazine Heralds of the Gospel n. 25, January 2004. By Roberto Kasuo

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