The Conversion of St. Paul

A Pharisee educated by the best of the Jewish rabbis, Paul was a faithful Jew who strongly persecuted Christians who he considered to be a threat to the Jewish faith.

Paul was a Roman citizen by birth which gave him certain rights and freedom. More well known by his Roman name Paul, he was originally referred to by his Jewish name Saul of Tarsus in the Bible.

Paul consented to the killing of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and was on the road to persecute Christians in the city of Damascus when he was confronted by the risen Jesus and underwent a profound conversion.

Not one of the original twelve Apostles who accompanied Jesus during his public ministry, Paul is known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. In spite of danger, imprisonment, and persecution he travelled extensively and spread the message of the Gospel. A large part of the New Testament consists of letters that he wrote during his travels.

He was beheaded in Rome around the year 64 AD, dying as a martyr for the faith he had once tried to destroy.

On January 25 each year, the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, the only conversion commemorated by the Church.

A reminder of God’s merciful love:

An encounter with Jesus led to Paul’s radical conversion:

A fragile human being confronted by the power of God:

“I myself once thought that I had to do many things against the name of Jesus the Nazorean, and I did so in Jerusalem. I imprisoned many of the holy ones with the authorization I received from the chief priests, and when they were to be put to death I cast my vote against them. Many times, in synagogue after synagogue, I punished them in an attempt to force them to blaspheme; I was so enraged against them that I pursued them even to foreign cities. On one such occasion I was traveling to Damascus with the authorization and commission of the chief priests. At midday, along the way, O king, I saw a light from the sky, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my traveling companions. We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goad.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting. Get up now, and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness of what you have seen [of Me] and what you will be shown. I shall deliver you from this people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may obtain forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been consecrated by faith in Me.”

Acts 26: 9-18

Paul became a great missionary after his conversion:

A great persecutor became a great Apostle:

Because of Paul we know about Jesus:

In the ancient Church Baptism was also called “illumination”, because this Sacrament gives light; it truly makes one see. In Paul what is pointed out theologically was also brought about physically: healed of his inner blindness, he sees clearly. Thus St. Paul was not transformed by a thought but by an event, by the irresistible presence of the Risen One Whom subsequently he would never be able to doubt, so powerful had been the evidence of the event, of this encounter. It radically changed Paul’s life in a fundamental way; in this sense one can and must speak of a conversion.

Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, 3 September 2008

Paul was an educated Jew and a Roman citizen:

The spiritual and intellectual foundation for Christian theology:

Such is not the case for Simon Peter when he confesses Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God”, for Jesus responds solemnly: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in Heaven.” Similarly Paul will write, regarding his conversion on the road to Damascus, “When He who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…” “and in the synagogues immediately [Paul] proclaimed Jesus, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.'” From the beginning this acknowledgment of Christ’s divine sonship will be the centre of the apostolic faith, first professed by Peter as the Church’s foundation.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 442

The site of Paul’s conversion is in present day Syria:

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