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The Conversion of St. Paul

st. paul
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 20 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.  Half of those came about when the people I had corresponded with were no longer in contact with me, but they contacted me later to thank me for at least setting them on the path.

Last year when the March for Life was all over Twitter, my eldest son got into some pretty heated debates with some pro-abortion atheists. He held his own and kept his cool, showing more grace than I sometimes manage, and certainly a lot more than I ever did at his age!! But when he expressed his frustration at not being able to change hearts or minds, or even get small concessions when he made a good point, I reminded him that those St. Paul moments, don't happen very often.  But our job is to speak the truth, in love, without anger or frustration, and just let the seeds we scatter do their jobs.  Sometimes those seeds take root, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes we find out that we helped, but most times we don't. We are just called to be part of the New Evangelization.