3rd Wednesday of Ordinary Time
Conversion of St. Paul
We celebrate the conversion of St Paul. Can we really speak of a conversion? Paul was a very righteous Pharisee. He was zealous for the Law. He believed in the God of his fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was not the convert we are familiar with, someone who converts from unbelief to faith, from a life of breaking the commandments to a life of amendment and repentance. This was not Paul.
Paul’s conversion and this is what the Church celebrates, is to Jesus Christ. God he could believe in. Jesus Christ the Nazarene, who was crucified like a common criminal, he could not and never ever would if he could help it. It was pure blasphemy for him. Paul was familiar with the Temple in Jerusalem and the Holy of Holies into which the High Priest alone entered once a year. The veil was a reminder that there was an impassible chasm between God and the world. It could not be otherwise.
And then on the road to Damascus it changed forever. Paul will always remember the time – around noon. It is hard for us to penetrate into that mysterious theophany but we must still ponder Paul’s account. Paul was familiar with the God of Israel. This God had cast His lot with His people. He had bound Himself to their history. He acted in their history. Paul was aware of this familiarity. God was not some Impersonal Deity. He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He was always with them. But the revolution on the road to Damascus was precisely in how God is now associated with His people.
Paul asked Jesus ‘who are you sir?’ Jesus replied ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting’. That was the crux of the matter. Nothing could be the same anymore. Jesus did not, as Paul would expected in a Jewish theophany, say ‘You are persecuting my people’ Paul could have accepted that easily and integrated it into his world view. What blew it apart was that God, in a sense, was the very people he was persecuting. This is was not God’s people but God was this people. This identification blew open his world view. This was the point of conversion to the Incarnation and the mystery of the Church. The very point that Paul has resisted so fiercely and so violently so far. But his conversion was so radical and so thorough that he actually considers himself to have previously been a blasphemer. He who prided himself to be a believer, in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ can only beat his breast and call himself a blasphemer.
That moment on the road lives on in his writings. We are not privileged witnesses but Paul is. His words now have to power to bring into the presence of the mystery of Christ living in us. Every page of Paul sheds light on our own inchoate experience struggling to be conscious and his words bring our experience into consciousness. Our own vague and tenuous stirrings would not burst into flame and light were it not for the fire that comes forth from the revelation to Paul. We thank God for this great conversion upon which the Church has always leaned for more than two thousand years.