Today we remember the conversion of Saul to Paul, later St. Paul the apostle, and one of the biggest evangelist the world has ever known.
The story is well known and familiar. Saul, an educated man, Roman citizen and a Pharisee, persecuted the followers of Christ with relish and enthusiasm. He even presided over the execution of the church's first martyr, St. Stephen. As he was traveling to the city of Damascus to pursue more Christians, with "murderous threats" he had a rather swift and severe "Come to Jesus" moment.
Paul was struck down with a flash of brilliant and blinding light and the heard the voice of the Lord asking him, "Saul, Saul, Why do you persecute me?"
Paul replied, "Who are you Lord?" and Jesus answered him, " I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do."
And that was that. The scriptures don't tell us what Paul was thinking on the way to Damascus. He was physically blind, so he was probably scared. He also had to depend on the help of the very Christians he had persecuted, which must have been a very humbling experience. As an added bonus, the Lord left him this way for three entire days, to emphasize the point.
As my kids were growing up, I warned them that conversion was best done in small increments and simple acceptances. But if you dwell too long in willful ignorance you run the risk of experiencing a St. Paul-conversion, which is effective, but very painful.
Yet as believers, it's not our job to "bring the pain." As much as we would like to see quick conversions among the people we debate and converse with over social media, those kinds of conversions are extremely rare. In my many years of discussion and debate on message boards and social media I have only seen a handful of conversions, and most of those took months or years to come about.
These days, I am more interested in re-conversions, especially for my own kids. It's heartbreaking to have a child reject the faith that you brought him up to know. Yet I pray and believe that eventually all my children will find their way back to the church. Unfortunately for some, it may actually be a road to Damascus moment.
Interestingly, Noah gave his witness to the confirmation class this week and talked about how his own conversion to his Catholic faith as a young adult did not come from a big event or a powerful experience at adoration. Instead it came from watching a young father hold his baby and realizing that God's love for him was even stronger and more powerful than that. I pray that his faith remains as strong in the years to come.