The Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle
With computers’ capabilities and social media technology continually increasing, transparency in government, church, and other institutions is enhanced as well. A painful realization for many folks today, however, is that our celebrities and even our heroes have clay feet. We are no longer shocked by moral lapses in the lives of politicians, entertainers, even ministers. And we hear about it every day!
Yet consider the great patriarch, Abraham. He who is reverenced as father of the entire Judeo-Christian people — and Islam as well — he who generously offered to Lot the right to be the first among the two to pick the territory he desires, he who warmly welcomed strangers, serving as the model of kindness and hospitality… Abraham couldn’t even care for his own child. He abandons his son, Ishmael, and the child’s mother, Hagar, in the desert wilderness, without food or water!
Or we might ponder the infidelity of David; though Israel’s greatest king, he was an adulterer and murderer, taking Bathsheba for his own, then quickly guaranteeing that her husband dies in battle.
Today we reflect on the life of Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles. Prior to his “conversion,” Saul of Tarsus was the greatest of rabbis, at the peak of his religious and political career. Yet it was Saul of Tarsus who concurred in the stoning of St. Stephan. He who was willing to die for his religious beliefs was also willing to kill for them.
What is to be learned from these scriptural narratives and liturgical celebrations? It seems that certitude surely isn’t the best of virtues, when it is not accompanied by humility. An ISIS extremist has certitude, suicide bombers have no doubts. Today’s feast reminds me that I cannot always rigidly catalog others into my categories of right and wrong, good and evil. Paul’s conversion… and mine… are constant reminders that canonizing or demonizing others, calling them saint or Satan, genius or jerk… is not only foolish or silly, but unchristian.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.