January 25, 2019: The Conversion of St. Paul
By Fr. Peter John Cameron OP
Blessed John Henry Newman (d. 1890) looked upon conversion as nothing more than a deeper discovery of what we already truly desire. Conversion happens at the level of desire. It is the restoration of what makes us truly human. Saul of Tarsus, the “Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23: 6), had often prayed in the Psalms, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ … Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down! … Flash forth the lightning…. Stretch forth your hand from on high, rescue me and deliver me” (Ps 27: 8-9; 144: 5, 6, 7). And that is exactly what happened when Saul encountered Christ on the road to Damascus:
Suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him…. [He] heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? … I am Jesus….” … They led [Saul] by the hand. (Acts 9: 3, 4, 5)
Pope Benedict XVI speaks of conversion as an act of obedience toward a reality that does not originate from us, that precedes us: the concrete God. Similarly, for St. Pope John Paul II, conversion means returning to God “through evaluating earthly realities in the unfailing light of his truth.” The proof of Paul’s conversion is his profession, “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil 1: 21). Conversion is a conversion to the will and design of God: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2: 20). “Conversion to Christ,” says Pope Benedict, “ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need —the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship.”
Various daily acts cause our conversion to grow: examining our conscience and admitting our faults; undertaking works of penance and reconciliation; receiving the correction others give us; reaching out to the poor; standing up for what is right and just; accepting the suffering and persecution that come our way; desiring to better our life (see CCC 1435). The key to conversion? Keeping our focus on the cross of Jesus Christ, for “the human heart is converted by looking upon [the Crucified] whom our sins have pierced” (CCC 1432, cf. Jn 19: 37; Zech 12: 10).
Glorious St. Paul, your conversion is a powerful witness to the world that God loves us and does not give up on us, no matter how far we stray. Help me to live a life of ongoing conversion. True conversion means converting my life to the design of God —the plan he has for me right now. Pray that I will love God’s will and providence for me. May every circumstance of my life be an occasion to change my way of thinking, to renounce self-will, and to surrender myself to the wisdom and tenderness of Jesus Christ, who is acting to make me his saint. May faith move me to believe that God can and will change the things in me that seem impossible. May the witness of my life inspire other sinners to conversion. In this confidence, I entrust to you these, my intentions: (mention your request here).