This Monday we celebrate the conversion of St. Paul, who went from a persecutor of Christians to one of Christ’s most outspoken followers and a leader and evangelist in the early Christian community. If you haven’t read or heard those passages lately it is repeated three times in in the Acts of the Apostles, 9:1-22, 22:3-16, and 26:12-18. The first time gives the most details and the others have Paul telling others about how he came to believe. I think Paul’s conversion falls at a time that can hopefully provide us with a good opportunity to reflect on three different celebrations / anniversaries last week.
Last Monday we remembered Martin Luther King Jr. and his peaceful confrontation with violent racial discrimination. Last Friday was the Anniversary of the Roe vs.Wade decision legalizing abortion in the United States. And last week we celebrated a Week for Christian Unity. For all of these situations we realize there are real divisions and animosity, at times to the point where others can even be demonized. Now fitting a week for Christian Unity into this may seem a bit extreme, but I don’t think we have to go too far back to realize in our country when this was the case, and the simple fact that we need to have identified a specific week for Christian Unity, while it seems like it should be something that is only natural, appears to support that understanding.
Looking at the conversion of St. Paul hopefully encourages us though to recognize that incredible changes can occur within people. That the hearts of people can be changed, that their eyes can be opened, and those who we once considered our persecutors and opponents can become our strongest defenders. For each of these areas, whether it be treating one another with equal dignity and respect regardless of their race, recognizing the life and rights of an unborn child, or focusing on the common beliefs we share with fellow Christians, I know that I have known people who were violently opposed to these thoughts make drastic changes and now speak out against their past actions. If we don’t believe this can happen then we are likely ourselves to not recognize the dignity, the rights, and the common beliefs that those we may be striving to convert or change already share with us.
Another aspect of Paul’s conversion is that it took someone else, Ananais, to have the courage and faith to also listen to God’s call in helping Paul, in welcoming him. When we have differences with others we need to be open to not just stand up for what we believe is right, but also to the conversion of others, and always open to follow Christ, in case that conversion is needed in ourselves.