Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

The conversion of St. Paul

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As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”—Acts 9: 3-6

St. Paul was a man sure of himself, of his beliefs and his knowledge of the Scriptures. He was a Pharisee, a very devout Jew who in his fervor vowed to destroy the fledgling Christian Church. On the way to Damascus, this man with a soul on fire with his zeal to arrest Christians and bring them back in chains to Jerusalem for trial was in store for an earth shattering experience. He was not a gentleman, nor a loving one, yet a man with a purpose, who was sure of himself and what he believed. He caused a great deal of pain and suffering to many of the earliest Christians.

Then the “Light” came and in an instant, this man’s world was torn asunder, turned upside down and his soul exposed to the ‘Light’ of truth. This truth was so profound that it for a time blinded him, as if he needed that time in darkness (he lost his sight) to be able to reorientate himself to this unsettling truth that Jesus was actually the Messiah and that he truly rose from the dead. A total reversal of what he believed moments before the light entered his life.

In the early church after his conversation, St. Paul was not accepted by all because of his outspoken nature and by the vehemence with which he took on his new role. As well as what he did too many Christians before his conversion. First of all it showed St. Paul’s heart, he was a man who sought the truth with more passion than most, which led him to call himself before his conversion “a Pharisee of Pharisee’s”. Yet he was able to let go of that when faced with the reality of the Risen Lord. Yet the fire remained after his conversion and at times this vehemence was turned on his fellow Christians, perhaps not always justly or fairly, which did not help matters for him. He did not seem to be a man who was easy to get along with…..his humanity remained in tack; he still had his thorn in his side that stayed with him all the days of his life to keep him humble. Perhaps it was his fiery temperament and anger that he struggled with to his dying day. He was just a man after all, though filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Many experienced this light of Jesus Christ after his resurrection. Before his departure, his appeared too many over a period of 40 days. That was why even from the beginning; his followers were ready to die for him, for they saw him, ate with him, touched his wounds…..the early church exploded into existence. Today it is the same Lord who calls us, yet because of the time we live in many no longer believe.

Men will die for the truth, even if they are mistaken. Men and women will not die for a lie however. St. Paul died for the Lord in the end, because the Light he saw was real, powerful and life changing. He heart burned to bring this experience to others, to share the reality of the love and power of this man Jesus Christ, who loved each of us so much as to die, to suffer and to forgive. Just as he loved Paul and forgave him for arresting and killing his beloved followers, with whom, Jesus fully identified….St. Stephen for example.

That same Lord is calling each of us by name to allow the Light into our hearts, to embrace the living, loving, merciful Lord, who has truly risen from the dead. Once this reality is seen as real, everything changes, life will never be the same. To believe is one thing, to experience what one believes is something deeper and life changing and I in reality different altogether.

Br. Mark Dohle, OCSO
Holy Spirit Monastery

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