Then he told them, “Go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News to all creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; the one who refuses to believe will be condemned. Signs like these will accompany those who have believed: in my name they will cast out demons and speak new languages; they will pick up snakes, and if they drink anything poisonous, they will be unharmed; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will be healed.”
It seems strange to speak of Paul’s “conversion.” Why? Because, when we refer to a person as having “converted,” we usually mean to say that such person once led a life of sinful depravity and is now leading a virtuous life. Thus we speak of St. Augustine’s “conversion.”
But the case of Paul does not fit that stereotype. For he never led a depraved life. As he states about himself in today’s first reading, “I was dedicated to God’s service.” In fact, he was about as strict a Pharisee as you could find. And so, why speak of conversion?
Here we do well to analyze the word “conversion.” It means basically an about-face, a turning towards. In Paul’s case, it simply meant that, like the proverbial stupid soccer player who is unknowingly trying to score against his own team, Paul was running in the wrong direction. He was fervent to a fault, but he was unknowingly spending all his energy fighting Christ instead of serving him. His “conversion” finally sets him on the right course. With an honest person, that is always possible. Once set on this right course, Paul heroically ran to his Goal, Jesus Christ, and died for him.
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