Every year on January 25th, the Catholic Church commemorates the feast of the conversion of St. Paul the Apostle. It is a beautiful feast, and there is quite a marvelous story to go along with it, which St. Paul tells us himself in the Acts of the Apostles.
As he was on his way to Damascus to arrest and persecute the Christians, a great light flashed in the sky that knocked Paul (at that point called Saul) to the ground, and he heard a voice: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” Saul, probably terrified and confused, responded, “Who are you, sir?” At that moment, the voice replied, “I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.” Imagine the hurt and distress that must have been heard in Our Lord’s voice as He cried out to this young man. And imagine the horror of Saul. How could this Person be talking to him? What could He possibly have to say?
However, Saul’s response is a lesson to anyone trying to do the will of God. He simply asks, “What shall I do, sir?” That’s it. He just wanted to know what God wanted of him. And when Our Lord instructed him on what to do, Saul immediately went and did it. But notice an interesting detail in the story: Saul had been blinded by the light that knocked him to the ground, and so he needed the help of his companions to reach the city and do what he was instructed to do, until he regained his sight through the prayer of Ananias.
I think we are all encouraged on this feast to draw a few lessons from this story that St. Paul offers us.
First, that sometimes God has to knock us off our “horse” in order to get through to us. When the mission or plan we have for our life is not in accord with His, He lovingly turns us back to the right path.
Second, when we are blind to God’s will, He will in return blind us with the light of His brilliance, power, and majesty. Sometimes, this might be a sudden and painful experience, as it was for Paul. But as we see from his conversion story, he was not angry with God because of it. Which brings us to the third lesson.
Third, Paul immediately asked what he should do, how he should respond to the voice of God speaking to him. And when God told him, the Apostle did not waver, but immediately did as God told him. We are called to do the same. The words of Ananias to Paul after his sight was restored are the same that we should hold in our hearts: “Now, why delay?”
Fourth, the people that God sends into our lives will either lead us closer to Him or away from Him. We must surround ourselves with good and virtuous companions who will help us along the right path, even when we cannot see the way.
Perhaps it will not be anything as drastic as getting knocked down by a blinding light and a voice in the sky telling us what we are doing wrong and what we are supposed to be doing instead. However, God calls each and every one of us to discern His will for our lives by listening to His voice. And sometimes He calls us to undergo a painful experience in order to turn our hearts away from something they are chasing that will not lead us to His will. Let us pray that St. Paul will give us the same courage, faith, and obedience that he possessed in his conversion experience so that we might respond eagerly and immediately to God’s loving plan to make us great saints!