Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that,
if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way,
he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus,
a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
He said, “Who are you, sir?”
The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless,
for they heard the voice but could see no one.
Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.
There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias,
and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”
He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight.”
But Ananias replied,
“Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man,
what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests
to imprison all who call upon your name.”
But the Lord said to him,
“Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine
to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,
and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
“Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.
He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus,
and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,
that he is the Son of God.
Today we have the conversion of Saul into St. Paul. There are some interesting details about this story:
1) Saul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord”. Every fiber of his being, every breath, sought to hurt those who were following Christ. He was a zealous Jew and saw Christians (those who followed The Way) as blasphemers against the true religion of Judaism.
2) Jesus’ voice could be heard, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” This is an interesting connection between Jesus and the Church as the Body of Christ. Saul wasn’t persecuting Jesus directly; he was persecuting His followers. But Jesus’ followers are one and the same with Jesus. This is wonderful for us to ponder today – that Jesus sees us as He sees Himself. We are united in the mystical Body of Christ.
3) For three days Saul was blinded. He walked in the dark. He had been walking in the dark for a long time as he persecuted the Christians. But now Saul had a few days to ponder what he had been doing. We too need to consider our own sinfulness in quiet contemplation. Maybe we need a retreat. Time away to reflect on our lives. Am I walking in darkness.
4) Jesus used Ananias as His instrument to cure Saul. Jesus could have cured Saul Himself, but He wants us to be His instruments of grace to the world. Jesus is calling me and you today to bring sight to the blind.
5) Ananias, or course, was scared to go to Saul because his reputation preceded him. But Jesus assured Ananias that Saul was his “chosen instrument” and that it would be safe. God calls us first. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” Everything begins with God’s initiation. He is calling you today to be His apostle. What is your response?
6) Saul was immediately baptized and then began to preach the name of Jesus. Baptism brought him into the family of God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. He had new life in the Holy Trinity and he couldn’t hold it in.
As I read this story I think about how our Church is being persecuted today. Many new laws are threatening religious freedom. There are attacks on traditional Catholic teachings such as marriage. Our traditional family values are seen as old-fashioned and obsolete. And yet God’s truths do not change.
With that in mind, let us pray for those who persecute us and our beliefs. Saul seemed like he never would change his ways, yet the grace of God broke through and changed the course of history. We may think that things look bleak, and they do. But we must not lose hope in Jesus Christ. We must not stop praying for the conversion of those who persecute us. God will prevail. Do not lose hope that even our worst persecutors will be converted.
Even Norma McCorvey, the woman made famous in the Roe vs. Wade case has been converted. She was the one who helped legalize abortion and now is a huge pro-life advocate. With God all things are possible!