Paul: Our Model of Conversion

Paul was born in Tarsus, on the southern coast of Turkey, in about 10 AD. His birth name was Saul (Acts 9, 11) and was of the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1; Philippians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 11:22). He inherited from birth the privilege of Roman citizenship (Acts 16, 37; 22, 26-28). Saul’s parents were Jewish, Pharisees, and did not mix much with others. They taught the law and traditions of the fathers of Israel and were strictly conforming to Jewish law.

Saul was able to speak, read, and write Greek and Hebrew fluently (Acts 21, 37 – 40). Through the influence of the Greek in his education, he was able to think clearly and analyze ideas thoroughly. The influence of the Hebrew helped to create in him a character of moral decency (Phil 3, 6). Because Saul had a lot of zeal as a young man, he was sent to Jerusalem to train to be a rabbi where he received instruction in the Jewish law according to the strict traditions of the Pharisees.

His teacher was a prominent and influential rabbi named Gamaliel (Acts 22, 3; 23, 6; 26, 5). For fifteen years, he sat at the feet of Gamaliel, studying the Torah, {the first 5 books of the Bible, namely: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy}, and all the other books of the Old Testament. He hung on every word of his teacher and made the effort to observe every aspect of the Law, down to the last detail as mentioned in Acts 22:1-4. His study was not simply a matter of academic curiosity – it was an act of worship. Saul observed the Law to the letter. No one really believed it could be practiced completely, and no one could find anything to correct in his behavior (Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:3-6).

We see Saul’s name for the first time in the Bible at the stoning of Stephen, (Acts 6, 13; 7, 58; 8, 1; Phil 3, 6). He was not an active participant but considered Stephen to be a rebel against Jewish law and, therefore, deserving of execution. He encouraged the violent acts that led to Stephen’s death. He then participated in continued persecution going from home to home dragging out and jailing the new Christians. He believed that his religious zeal against the Christians was what God expected of him. Saul had no personal knowledge of Jesus or of his mission, but readily absorbed the scorn and hatred of the Jewish leaders toward Jesus.

God, however, in His infinite wisdom would choose someone who had never seen the Lord while he lived among men, and who had only heard his name spoken in contempt. God saw in Saul a heart loyal to truth and duty. There are moments in life when we must choose whether or not we will surrender to God.

During a trip to Damascus, Saul’s life took a drastic turn as he encountered our risen Lord in the burning vision of light that left him temporarily blind. He became Paul and was baptized by Ananias being received into the Church of Damascus, the very community he had set out to suppress (Acts 9:10-31). Paul was transformed into Christianity’s greatest evangelizer whose writings are proclaimed at mass every. His experience on the road to Damascus caused a complete redirection of his life. He went from being the angry young man who cheered the stoning of Stephen to becoming a selfless and dedicated evangelizer, fearlessly preaching the Good News where it was not known. Paul the once-enemy of the Christian faith:

is “called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, (2 Cor. 1:1)
becomes “a slave of Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1) as he proclaimed “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
becomes “servant of Christ Jesus, (Phi 1:1)
becomes “a prisoner of Christ of Jesus, (Phil 1:1) as he stated “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1)
Paul cared for the new Christians and led them on their spiritual journey. He professed that Jesus was the center and that we are justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption that came by Jesus.

Sharing God’s message with others is more than just telling the Good News. Together we can strengthen one another in the faith. Our identity and inner strength are sustained by our testimony. God’s power is evidenced in our inner joy and ability to praise God in all the circumstances of our lives. When we begin to recognize God’s transformation of our own lives, we should become so excited that we want to share that good news with all we meet. We will eagerly seek God by continuing to study his Word, living the Eucharist, and making his Word and the Eucharist the standard of our faith and conduct.

Following the example of Paul, we someday should be able to boldly proclaim “It is no longer I who lives but Christ that lives within me.”

M.L. Casimir-Sainton