“Neither fear nor self-interest can convert the soul. They may change the appearance, perhaps even the conduct, but never the object of supreme desire... Fear is the motive which constrains the slave; greed binds the selfish man, by which he is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed (James 1:14). But neither fear nor self-interest is undefiled, nor can they convert the soul. Only charity can convert the soul, freeing it from unworthy motives.” ― St Bernard of Clairvaux
Scripture Text: (ACTS 22:3-16)
Paul addressed the people in these words:
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia,
but brought up in this city.
At the feet of Gamaliel I was educated strictly in our ancestral law
and was zealous for God, just as all of you are today.
I persecuted this Way to death,
binding both men and women and delivering them to prison.
Even the high priest and the whole council of elders
can testify on my behalf.
For from them I even received letters to the brothers
and set out for Damascus to bring back to Jerusalem
in chains for punishment those there as well.
“On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
I replied, ‘Who are you, sir?’
And he said to me,
‘I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.’
My companions saw the light
but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me.
I asked, ‘What shall I do, sir?’
The Lord answered me, ‘Get up and go into Damascus,
and there you will be told about everything
appointed for you to do.’
Since I could see nothing because of the brightness of that light,
I was led by hand by my companions and entered Damascus.
“A certain Ananias, a devout observer of the law,
and highly spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
came to me and stood there and said,
‘Saul, my brother, regain your sight.’
And at that very moment I regained my sight and saw him.
Then he said,
‘The God of our ancestors designated you to know his will,
to see the Righteous One, and to hear the sound of his voice;
for you will be his witness before all
to what you have seen and heard.
Now, why delay?
Get up and have yourself baptized and your sins washed away,
calling upon his name.’”
Saul had it all! He knew the Law back and front. He had zeal. He had works - big ones! He loved Judaism and hated her enemies. It was Saul who sat at the stoning of the young deacon named Stephen. Why was the young man martyred? St. Stephen dared to preach Jesus and so he had to be silenced. Then... The impossible. The Lord reached a loving hand to a man who participated in a murder – Yes a murder! He knocked Him off his high horse - literally. He called Him to repentance. Blinded him.
So what is conversion?
First and foremost, it is a grace from God. People experience conversion because the Holy Spirit reveals God’s love, his mercy, and his holiness to their hearts. But there is a human dimension to conversion as well. Conversion happens as a person decides to turn away from sin and turn to the Lord.
Paul’s conversion came when he realized that what he thought was a good thing—persecuting believers in Christ—was really a sin. God made it clear that he had been persecuting Jesus as well as innocent Christians. And that revelation moved him to devote his whole life to spreading the good news that he had just experienced. Saul was them transformed into Paul – St Paul to be exact!
So friends, I ask all of you, what is it we are wrong about today? What have we misrecognized, where are we misdirected?
Like St. Paul, we might be “pious”, we might be educated, we might be trustworthy, and we might be “good”, but that doesn’t mean that we are holy! Jesus himself warns us, trying to live a Christian life will never bring security: things are going to get messy. Pope Francis, our Holy Father constantly stresses this message.
This is why we celebrate the conversion of St. Paul: because St. Paul’s conversion gives us hope for our own conversions. For if a man as certain as St. Paul can be knocked off his high horse, can be forced to confront his misrecognitions, can be called to conversion, then the same must also be true of us.