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The Conversion of St.

Paul – Jubilee Year Edition

Scripture Readings
First Acts 22:3-16 or Acts 9:1-22
Second 1 Cor 7:29-31
Gospel Mark 16:15-18

Prepared by: Fr. James Cuddy, O.P.

1. Subject Matter
• From the USCCB website: “In observance of the Year of St. Paul, Pope Benedict XVI has
granted permission to observe the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on Sunday this year;
normally this feast would not be observed when it falls on a Sunday. Parishes may celebrate
the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time or they may observe the Feast of the Conversion of St.
Paul with its proper texts from the Roman Missal (using the Preface of Apostles I or II) and
the Lectionary for Mass (no. 519). In addition, the recitation of the Creed is included, and
because there are only two readings provided in the Lectionary for Mass, the second
Reading of the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time is used.”
• The connection between conversion and evangelization.

2. Exegetical Notes
• Paul notes in Acts 22 the breadth and depth of his rabbinical training and daily life as a Jew,
and that it was only through the personal encounter with Christ that was converted. Luke’s
inclusion of the time of day at which the conversion took place is unique to this account of the
conversion and emphasizes that Paul was not dreaming or imagining Christ’s intervention.
Upon seeing the great light from the sky, Saul falls to the ground – a typical response to the
presence of God (cf. Abram in Gen 17:3, Eze 43:3).
• The second reading asserts that the parousia could occur at any moment, and the Christian
must remain watchful for the coming of the Lord. “He must keep himself detached from this
world that is passing away. In this sense, even the married must live with detachment, i.e.
fulfilling the duties of their state that involve them in the cares of this world without attaching
their hearts to this world” (JBC).
• In the Gospel, the Church sees her charge to universal evangelization to “the whole world”
and “every creature.” The conditions of salvation are faith and baptism; the two are never
separated. Every person must answer the invitation to new life in Christ.
3. References to the Catechism of the Catholic Church
• 545 Jesus invites sinners to the table of the kingdom: "I came not to call the righteous, but
sinners." He invites them to that conversion without which one cannot enter the kingdom, but
shows them in word and deed his Father's boundless mercy for them and the vast "joy in
heaven over one sinner who repents". The supreme proof of his love will be the sacrifice of
his own life "for the forgiveness of sins".
• 1432 The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion
is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him: "Restore us to
thyself, O LORD, that we may be restored!" God gives us the strength to begin anew. It is in
discovering the greatness of God's love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of
sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart
is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced.
• 849 The missionary mandate: Having been divinely sent to the nations that she might be the
universal sacrament of salvation, the Church, in obedience to the command of her founder
and because it is demanded by her own essential universality, strives to preach the Gospel
to all men.
• 851 Missionary motivation: It is from God's love for all men that the Church in every age
receives both the obligation and the vigor of her missionary dynamism, "for the love of Christ
urges us on." Indeed, God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the
truth"; that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth.
Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the prompting of the Spirit of truth are already
on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out
to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God's universal
plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary.
• 2419 The Church receives from the Gospel the full revelation of the truth about man. When
she fulfills her mission of proclaiming the Gospel, she bears witness to man, in the name of
Christ, to his dignity and his vocation to the communion of persons. She teaches him the
demands of justice and peace in conformity with divine wisdom.

4. Patristic Commentary and Other Authorities


• St. John Chrysostom: The most important thing of all to St. Paul was that he knew himself
to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else;
were he without it, it would be no satisfaction to be the friend of principalities and powers. He
preferred to be thus loved and be the least of all, or even to be among the damned, than to
be without that love and be among the great and honored.
• St. Thomas Aquinas: To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher
and of each believer.
• Lumen Gentium: Christ . . . continually fulfills His prophetic office until the complete
manifestation of glory. He does this not only through the hierarchy . . ., but also through the
laity whom He made His witnesses and to whom He gave understanding of the faith and an
attractiveness in speech so that the power of the Gospel might shine forth in their daily social
and family life. They conduct themselves as children of the promise, and thus strong in faith
and in hope they make the most of the present, and with patience await the glory that is to
come. Let them not, then, hide this hope in the depths of their hearts, but even in the
program of their secular life let them express it by a continual conversion and by wrestling
against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness. . . . This
evangelization, that is, this announcing of Christ by a living testimony as well as by the
spoken word, takes on a specific quality and a special force in that it is carried out in the
ordinary surroundings of the world.
• Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church The contemporary world is marked by
a rift between the Gospel and culture, by a secularized vision of salvation that tends to
reduce even Christianity to “merely human wisdom, a pseudo- science of well-being.” The
Church is aware that she must take “a giant step forward in her evangelization effort, and
enter into a new stage of history in her missionary dynamism.” The Church's social doctrine
is situated within this pastoral vision: “The new evangelization, which the modern world
urgently needs, ... must include among its essential elements a proclamation of the Church's
social doctrine.”

5. Examples from the Saints and Other Exemplars


• The Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman saw in the conversion of St. Paul a model for
his own entrance into the Church. He held that St. Paul’s conversion, while dramatic, was “no
radical change of religious principle.” He simply recognized that Christ was the promised
Messiah. The zeal that characterized his life as a Pharisee remained until he won the
martyr’s crown. So it was with Newman. His Anglican doctrine eventually led his to the
Church and the process of conversion prepared him to be one of the most influential
preachers and evangelizers of the 19th century. “Who has not felt a fear lest he be wandering
from the true doctrine of Christ? Let him cherish and obey the holy light of conscience within
him, as Saul did; let him carefully study the Scriptures, as Saul did not; and the God who had
even mercy on the persecutor of His saints will assuredly shed His grace upon him and bring
him in to the truth as it is in Jesus.”
• On February 17, 1945, Israel Zolli, the Chief Rabbi of Rome, and his wife received the
sacrament of baptism. Upon being received into the Church, Zolli was interviewed and
asked, "Then you believe that the Messiah has come?" "Yes, positively," replied Zolli. "I have
believed it many years. And now I am so firmly convinced of the truth of it that I can face the
whole world and defend my faith with the certainty and solidity of the mountains." The
interview continued, "But why didn’t you join one of the Protestant denominations, which are
also Christian?" He answered, "Because protesting is not attesting. I do not intend to
embarrass anyone by asking: ‘Why wait 1,500 years to protest?’ The Catholic Church was
recognized by the whole Christian world as the true Church of God for 15 consecutive
centuries. No man can halt at the end of those 1,500 years and say that the Catholic Church
is not the Church of Christ without embarrassing himself seriously. I can accept only that
Church which was preached to all creatures by my own forefathers, the Twelve who, like me,
issued from the Synagogue.” For the full account of his conversion and famous interview, see
http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2002/0212clas.asp.

6. Quotations from Pope Benedict XVI


• “All Paul's actions begin . . . [with the] experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a very
personal way. It is awareness of the fact that Christ did not face death for something
anonymous but rather for love of him - of Paul - and that, as the Risen One, he still loves him;
in other words, Christ gave himself for him. Paul's faith is being struck by the love of Jesus
Christ, a love that overwhelms him to his depths and transforms him. His faith is not a theory,
an opinion about God and the world. His faith is the impact of God's love in his heart. Thus,
this same faith was love for Jesus Christ.”
• “The truth that he experienced in his encounter with the Risen One was well worth the fight,
persecution and suffering. But what most deeply motivated him was being loved by Jesus
Christ and the desire to communicate this love to others. Paul was a man capable of loving
and all of his actions and suffering can only be explained on the basis of this core sentiment.”
• “The experience of being loved to the very end by Christ had opened his eyes to the truth
and to the way of human existence. It was an experience that embraced everything. Paul
was free as a man loved by God, who, by virtue of God, was able to love together with him.
This love then became the "law" of his life and in this very way, the freedom of his life. He
speaks and acts motivated by the responsibility of love. Here freedom and responsibility are
indivisibly united.”
• “The call to become the teacher of the Gentiles is, at the same time and intrinsically, a call to
suffering in communion with Christ who redeemed us through his Passion. In a world in
which falsehood is powerful, the truth is paid for with suffering. The one who desires to avoid
suffering, to keep it at bay, keeps life itself and its greatness at bay; he cannot be a servant
of truth and thus a servant of faith. There is no love without suffering - without the suffering of
renouncing oneself, of the transformation and purification of self for true freedom. Where
there is nothing worth suffering for, even life loses its value.”

7. Other Considerations
• It is the encounter with the person of Jesus – the Risen Lord – that characterizes the
conversion of St. Paul. Having met Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul the Pharisee is
transformed into Paul the Apostle and Christianity’s first theologian. This experience puts
Paul on equal footing with the Twelve who had seen the Lord in the flesh and were witnesses
to his resurrection.
• In accordance with the 10 May 2008 Decree of the Apostolic Penitentiary, many local
ordinaries have made available a plenary indulgence for those faithful who take part devoutly
in this celebration.

Recommended Resources
For resources concerning the Pauline year – plenary indulgences, homilies of the Holy Father,
etc. – see http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/stpaul/index.shtml
Peter John Cameron, ed., Praying with Saint Paul: Daily Reflections on the Letters of the
Apostle Paul (Yonkers: Magnificat, 2008).
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
(Washington, DC: USCCB Publishing, 2007).