The Conversion of St Paul is celebrated on January 25th, and is recognised as one of the greatest events of the early Church. This is due to the fact that prior to Paul’s (previously Saul) conversion on the road to Damascus, he had persecuted Christians.
Paul’s conversion was a revelation of such magnitude and depth that it changed everything he once believed about the world, himself in it, and about God. In his own words: ‘through the law I died to the law, that I might live to God’. In other words, because he was a Jew, his experience of God in Christ utterly transformed his view of everything.
He was on his way to Damascus to take up any Jews who confessed to following Jesus and bring them bound to Jerusalem. During this journey, he was surprised by a flash of white which blinded him. This flash was Jesus, and this encounter resulted in his immediate conversion to Christianity.
His notion that sin took advantage of the law made him realise that it was his own flawed understanding of the Law that made him a persecutor. Encountering Christ, ‘undistorted’ his faith and allowed him to understand rightly. Paul, then, does not ‘convert’ from Judaism to Christianity, but from his own flawed and distorted way of being ‘under the law’ to an authentic and liberating experience of the ‘Law of love’ revealed in Jesus.
This experience led him to convert disciples of Christ instead of persecuting them. He preached the gospel to everyone he came into contact with, orally and through letters. He was instrumental in spreading the word of Jesus and the Gospel.
Pope St. John Paul II comments on Paul’s conversion experience:
“The central element of the whole experience is the fact of conversion. Destined to evangelise the Gentiles ‘to turn them from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may obtain the forgiveness of their sins’ (acts 26:18), Saul is called by Christ, above all, to work a radical conversion upon himself. Saul thus begins his laborious road of conversion that will last as long as he lives, beginning with unusual humility with that ‘what must I do, Lord?’ and docilely letting himself be led by the hand to Anaias, through whose prophetic ministry it will be given to him to know God’s plan.” – Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Jan 25th 1983.
Like Paul, all Christians are called to conversion. We are invited to recognise our own sins, seek forgiveness, and become new again. This is continually possible throughout the entirety of our lives, but we must work towards aligning ourselves with God.