Paul’s Conversion Encounter with Jesus

Today the Church celebrates the conversion of St. Paul, who is regarded as the Apostle to the nations. The first reading of the day’s liturgy from Acts 22: 3-16 (cf. Acts 9: 1-22) recounts, in graphic details, the story of Paul’s conversion. The turning point was his encounter with Jesus on the way to Damascus. The episode testifies to the fact that the entire mission of St. Paul was mandated directly by Jesus. Just as he mandated the mission of the mainline apostles.

The Encounter on the Road to Damascus

The story of Saul who later became Paul is a story of pure grace. Ordinarily, one would have expected a divine punishment for Saul. That, for his murderous actions and threats against Christ’s followers and the entire Church of God.

Instead of being punished, Saul is privileged with an extraordinary divine encounter that changes his whole life orientation. Saul’s journey to Damascus was not for good, but the encounter changes it and makes it a journey of conversion. God has a way of turning our greatest misfortunes and misadventures into blessings. One can be privileged with divine encounter in the midst of the greatest misadventure.

What Saul met on the road to Damascus is reflected in many life experiences. There are really many roads of Damascus in the journey of life and faith. The light that shone around Saul from the sky is the same light he is commissioned to bring to the nations for their conversion and salvation. Under the force of this great light, Saul got blinded. How can one understand this phenomenon?

The blindness can be interpreted as symbolizing his old self with his presumptions and prejudices that the light comes now to illumine. The new light puts his whole life in crisis so as to give birth to a new way of seeing and living. This is what the divine encounter does to our lives.

From Encounter to Mission

Paul’s conversion encounter on the road concludes with his baptism and reception of the message of being a missionary for the same Jesus he spent all his time trying to persecute. He saw himself as a prisoner for Christ, having been captured by Christ himself. The mandate to become a missionary is a mandate that every baptised Christian receives.

It is stated clearly in the Gospel of today from Mark 16:15-18, and it mandates the preaching of the good news to every creature. In other words, it is the will of the divine Master that the good news is brought to all creatures without exception and without discrimination. It means that there are no frontiers to mission.

The Christian is always on mission of good tidings and should never be deterred or discouraged by obstacles, neither of language barrier nor of demonic forces, neither of dangerous snakes nor of deadly poison. The power behind the missionary mandate accompanies the Christian in the face of all difficult challenges and experiences. As the psalmist of today says, great is His steadfast love toward us, and His faithfulness endures forever (Ps 117:2).

Remain Steadfast

The feast of the conversion of Paul, which we celebrate today, encourages us to remain steadfast in the face of all experiences in our missionary and pilgrim life. Like Paul, we have moments when we feel convinced that our limited vision of things is the only way while we judge others as totally wrong. At such moments we are ready to combat or even destroy other viewpoints and opponents. But God, in His loving approach, has a way of beaming His light on us at such moments. So, like Paul, we all have our own roads to Damascus. But sometimes, we refuse to look up to the light, as we prefer to continue in our old ways.

May God’s light continue to shine upon us that we may see clearly the beauty of following Him and the treasures laid in store for us!

[Readings: Acts 22:3-16; Mk 16:15-18]

Fr. Luke Ijezie

Rev. Fr. Dr. Luke Emehiele Ijezie comes from Amucha in the Imo State of Nigeria. He is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Orlu, Nigeria, and ordained a priest on 24th September 1988. With a Licentiate and Doctorate in Sacred Scripture (SSL, Biblicum, Rome, 1995, STD, Gregorian University, Rome, 2005), he has since 2006 been a lecturer in Sacred Scripture and Biblical Languages at the Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He is the national secretary of the Catholic Biblical Association of Nigeria (CABAN) and executive member of the Association of African Theologians (ATA), a member of various professional associations, among which are the Catholic Biblical Association of America (CBA) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL). He is the author of numerous publications. Contact: Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), Port Harcourt [email protected]

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