After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the conversion of Saint Paul was probably the most important event in the Church’s history. The preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, the evangelization of the Roman Empire, and the writing of the majority of the New Testament all flowed from this personally transforming moment of grace. At the opening of the Year of Saint Paul back in 2008, Pope Benedict preached at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls about what exactly happened to Saint Paul in the moment of his conversion:
“We have gathered near the tomb of St Paul, who was born 2,000 years ago at Tarsus in Cilicia, in present-day Turkey. … For us Paul is not a figure of the past whom we remember with veneration. He is also our teacher, an Apostle and herald of Jesus Christ for us too. … Let us not ask ourselves only: who was Paul? Let us ask ourselves above all: who is Paul? What does he say to me? In the Letter to the Galatians, St Paul gives a very personal profession of faith in which he opens his heart to readers of all times and reveals what was the most intimate drive of his life. “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2: 20). All Paul’s actions begin from this center. His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a very personal way. It is awareness of the fact that Christ did not face death for something anonymous but rather for love of him – of Paul – and that, as the Risen One, he still loves him; in other words, Christ gave himself for him. Paul’s faith is being struck by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that overwhelms him to his depths and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an opinion about God and the world. His faith is the impact of God’s love in his heart. Thus, this same faith was love for Jesus Christ.” (Homily for the Opening of the Pauline Year)
I know myself as one loved by Jesus Christ. In essence, this is what we are saying when we profess the Creed, pray the Our Father, open up the Bible, or invoke the Holy Spirit. If at times we might struggle to see this love in our daily lives because of the presence of suffering, that difficulty in no way changes the truth of our identity we have received in our Baptism. Let Saint Paul’s example of receiving God’s love, from which everything else in his vocation flowed, inspire you to have the courage to do the same. Holy Spirit, as you burned brightly in Saint Paul’s heart and soul and inspired his courageous witness to the Gospel, we ask you to fill each one of us with the same confidence in the Father’s love, so that we can bear every hardship with courage and boldly show others how immensely and abundantly they too are loved.
Mary, Star of the Third Millennium, pray for us!