By his own account, St. Paul was an enthusiastic Jewish persecutor of the first Christians. In his zeal for the law, he was responsible for the death and imprisonment of many Christian men and women. He was present at the martyrdom of St. Stephan.
Paul persecuted Christians out of zeal and love for God. He thought that he was justified by his actions. Then something mysterious and profound happened to him on the dusty road to Damascus as he traveled to bring Christian prisoners to Jerusalem for trial. (Acts 22)
St. Paul had a personal and dramatic encounter with Jesus Christ. Although there was no horse to fall from, there were plenty of special effects. A light so bright that Paul is blinded. He collapses onto the road. Then he hears a voice asking, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me.
Paul could not ignore the voice and penetrating light of Christ. Paul responds without hesitation, What shall I do Lord? In this singular event, Paul is transformed. The course of his life has been irrevocably changed.
St. John Chrysostom said that St. Paul never looked back.
Paul’s blindness is a symbol of his blindness to the truth of Jesus Christ. The Apostle remains blind for three days until Anani arrives to lay hands on him. (Acts 9). But Pope Benedict has said that it is only after being illuminated by baptism that Paul was truly able to see.
It is not surprising, then, that St. Paul emphasized baptism:
“Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.” (Romans 6:3-4)
In the letters of St. Paul, the first seeds of Christian doctrine are revealed. They contain a Sacramental theology which has matured and developed through the centuries. St. Paul’s conversion experience was powerful. God intervened in his life to give him the gift of grace. Pope Benedict, in his catechesis on St. Paul, says that “We are Christians only if we Encounter Christ”. The ordinary way that Christians encounter Jesus Christ and enter into a relationship with him is through the Sacraments of the Church.
It is in the Sacraments that we truly meet Christ. It is the ordinary way that Christ becomes knowable, receivable and touchable especially in the Eucharist. Christ meets us in the sacraments so that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can participate in the very life of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Most of us do not experience Christ in such a dramatic way as St. Paul, yet we can only be Christians if we have encountered the living Christ.
It is only in this encounter that we can answer the deepest questions of the human heart. Who am I? Why am I here.? Does my life have meaning? Is there a plan for me? How do I find joy.
St. Paul’s encounter with Jesus Christ caused him to take a new direction in his life. By our Baptism into Jesus we are called to change our lives by turning back to God, and away from sin every day of our lives. Our faith needs to be a lived faith. Christian are called to be one with Jesus Christ. We are all called to, with great energy and joy bring the good news of the Gospel to all that we meet.