St. Paul shares a feast day with St. Peter on June 29. In addition, alone among all the saints, St. Paul is celebrated on a feast reserved for his conversion—a reflection of the significance of this event for the life of the Church. Paul’s conversion, after all, signaled the opening of the Gospel message beyond the Jewish community and its proclamation to the wider world.
The dramatic nature of Paul’s conversion is recounted in the Acts of the Apostles. As a “young man named Saul,” he was part of the mob that stoned St. Stephen. “And Saul was consenting to his death.” On a subsequent mission to Damascus to pursue followers of “the Way,” Saul was suddenly knocked to the ground by a blinding light and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? . . . I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Though struck blind, Saul obeyed the instruction to proceed to Damascus, where he was blessed and baptized by a disciple named Ananias (who was understandably skeptical about this assignment). Afterward, his sight restored, Paul began proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God.
Not every conversion is as sudden or as dramatic as Paul’s. In many cases it is a much longer process, marked by internal struggle and doubt. Yet at some point, there is a decisive moment when the cord is cut, and God’s call is answered. Whether in the case of Paul, Augustine, or any of the saints, that critical turning point is only the beginning of a lifelong process of putting off the old person and putting on Christ.
“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.”