Today, the Church celebrates the conversion of St. Paul, the great missionary to the nations. Paul’s conversion experience helps us to understand what conversion is all about. It is an experience of reversal in thinking and mentality. Ordinarily, Paul cannot be said to have been an unbeliever before his conversion. So, his experience is not that of graduating from unbelief to religiosity.
On the contrary, he was a very strong believer, a fanatical champion of absolute monotheism and hater of all who showed signs of unbelief in God. He took it upon himself to persecute the early believers in Jesus because he considered them as apostates, as people who departed from the purity of the traditional faith of Judaism. In the heat of this religious hysteria, something radical happened to him. He was called to look beyond his convictions.
He Experienced a Great Light from Heaven
When Paul thought he knew everything about God and became excessively arrogant and intolerant. He experienced the greatest shock of his life. As he was vaunting his ego, marching to bring to forced reason those he thought had gone out of reason, God surprised him. A great light from heaven threw him down from his conceited height. This unique experience of divine light on the road to Damascus made the great Paul to look beyond and to hear a better voice that now put him into crisis with his former religious convictions. He now saw Jesus as the real orientation of all his earlier Jewish religious belief system. As the light of Jesus shone around him and penetrated his whole being, he began to look beyond Judaism. This was the real conversion.
Called to Become a Light to Other Nations
The great point of Paul’s new vocation is that he is now called to enlarge his horizon. He is no longer to remain within the comfort zone of Judaism or of a traditional faith that hardly went beyond the nationalistic boundaries. Paul is called to become a light to other nations, to let God’s saving message reach all humanity. It is a call to see and act beyond one’s immediate horizon, a call to enlarge one’s coast and to rise above all parochial and particularistic tendencies. The conversion of Paul invites the Church and all believers in Christ to renew their commitment to the universal mission of Christianity as reiterated in the missionary mandate in today’s Gospel: “Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
Ours is a universalistic mission, and we should never betray it. We are called to let the good tidings of Christ reach every human person, irrespective of race, language, nationality, or religion. This involves getting more fully committed to human promotion and welfare of all creation at all levels. But pitifully, despite the many years of proclaiming the Christian faith and the many social developments in today’s world, one finds that we are still very much estranged from one another. Selfishness still controls much of our relationships. That is why the much-trumpeted Christian love is more spoken than really practiced, as many in need of love and solidarity continue to languish in neglect and indifference from fellow Christians. May the light that continues to shine from heaven help us to see our call as that of looking beyond our present convictions and hearing the voice that calls us to greater and wider commitments, a voice that urges us to look yonder and bring greater joy and wellbeing to others beyond our immediate environs!