The Conversion of St. Paul by Caravaggio
Today is the feast day on which we celebrate the conversion of the great persecutor of the Church, Saul, on the road to Damascus. This, the very same Saul that witnessed, and approved, the martyrdom, of St. Stephen.
The dramatic conversion is described in the Acts of the Apostles, in the 9th chapter:
"9:1 Saul, with every breath he drew, still threatened the disciples of the Lord with massacre; and now he went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters of commendation to the synagogues at Damascus, so that he could arrest all those he found there, men and women, who belonged to the way, and bring them back to Jerusalem.3 Then, on his journey, when he was nearly at Damascus, a light from heaven shone suddenly about him. 4 He fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me? 5 Who art thou, Lord? he asked. And he said, I am Jesus, whom Saul persecutes. This is a thankless task of thine, kicking against the goad. 6 And he, dazed and trembling, asked, Lord, what wilt thou have me do? 7 Then the Lord said to him, Rise up, and go into the city, and there thou shalt be told what thy work is. His companions stood in bewilderment, hearing the voice speak, but not seeing anyone. 8 When he rose from the ground he could see nothing, although his eyes were open, and they had to lead him by the hand, to take him into Damascus.9 Here for three days he remained without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 There was, in Damascus, a disciple named Ananias; to him the Lord called in a vision, Ananias. Here I am, Lord, he answered. 11 And the Lord said to him, Rise up and go to the road called Straight Street; and enquire at the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus, named Saul. Even now he is at his prayers: 12 and he has had a vision of a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him, to cure him of blindness. 13 At this, Ananias answered, Lord, many have told me about this man, and all the hurt he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; 14 and he has come here with authority from the chief priests to imprison all those who call upon thy name. 15 But the Lord said to him, Go on thy errand; this is a man I have chosen to be the instrument for bringing my name before the heathen and their rulers, and before the people of Israel too. 16 I have yet to tell him, how much suffering he will have to undergo for my name’s sake. 17 So Ananias set out; and as soon as he came into the house he laid his hands upon him, and said, Brother Saul, I have been sent by that Lord Jesus who appeared to thee on thy way as thou camest here; thou art to recover thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit. 18 And with that, a kind of film fell away from his eyes, and his sight was recovered. He rose up, and was baptized; 19 and now, when he had taken food, his strength returned to him. For some days he lived with the disciples at Damascus, 20 and from the first, in the synagogues, he preached that Jesus was the Son of God. 21 All those who heard it were amazed; Why, they said, is not this the man who brought ruin on all those who invoked this name, when he was in Jerusalem; the man who came here for the very purpose of arresting such people and presenting them to the chief priests?22 But Saul was inspired with ever greater strength, and silenced the Jews who lived at Damascus by shewing them clearly that this was the Christ."
[Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9]
From enemy of Christ and His Church, to Apostle to the Gentiles; it is hard to imagine a more dramatic account of conversion and grace! Imagine, too, the grace, mercy, and charity required of the Christian community to accept, and even follow, one that had so lately been guilty of the blood of a martyr!
The Statue of St. Paul in the front of the Basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura, Roma, Italia.
For more on St. Paul, you might note:
Old Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Paul
Catholic Saints Info: St. Paul
May we, like St. Paul, be open to the grace of conversion! May we also have the mercy and courage to pray for the conversion of our persecutors, and to accept them if they, like St. Paul, repent!