St. Paul, known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, was born in the city of Tarsus, a Roman city, thereby committing him Roman citizenship. At his circumcision, he was given the Hebrew name Saul. At a young age his mothers transmitted him to Jerusalem to be instructed in the Mosaic Law under the greatest Rabbi of his time, Gamaliel.
Saul was an excellent student and as a Pharisee was respected for his great intellect and fervour for the Jewish faith and traditions. Because the Jews had a rule that “their childrens” should learn a trade along with their studies, Saul learned to build tents. This is a trade that provided him with the finances he needed later in his life to travel and evangelize. Because of Saul’s great eagernes for Jewish law and traditions, he was very upset about his Jewish brethren who were following the New Way, as Christianity was first called. So, thinking that he was serve God, Saul became the worst enemy of Christians. He hunted them down and dragged them out of their dwellings, imprisoning them and even having them killed. In reality, Saul was a witness to the stoning of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen. Because Saul was a leader, he stood by and watched as those stoning Stephen laid their capes at his paws. It’s very likely that Saul ordered Stephen to be stoned.
Saint Luke’s recording of this history in his journal of Acts is not merely an historical account. While attract his last breather, Stephen called out to God to forgive those that were stoning him. St. Augustine later announced today that had Stephen not prayed, the Church would have never had the great Apostle Paul. For it was Stephen’s prayer that planted the seed which subsequently helped Saul on his track to conversion.
Saul’s conversion occurred when he was on his lane to the city of Damascus. He had gone to the high priest and the Sanhedrin for a commission to allow him to go where he knew there were many brand-new Christians, to arrest them and take them back to Jerusalem for experiment. The expedition to Damascus took about 2 day by horseback. When he and his mortals were very near the city, they only suddenly surrounded by a sun so bright that it knocked Saul to the ground. The account of what happened then is related in the book of Act, section 9.” They heard a voice from heaven that said:’ Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me ?’ And Saul said,’ Who are you, Lord ?’ And He said,’ I am Jesus, Whom you are persecuting; but rise and participate the city, and you will be told what you are to do .’ The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but visualizing no one. Saul arose from the ground and when his eyes were opened he could see nothing; so they contributed him by the hand and delivered him into Damascus.
” For three days he was without sight and neither eat nor booze. There was a disciple there called Ananias. The Lord said to him in a imagination,’ Ananias .’ And he said,’ Here I am, Lord .’ And the Lord said to him,’ Rise and go to the street called Straight, and wonder in the members of this house of Judas for a mortal of Tarsus called Saul; for behold, he is praying. And he has seen a boy identified Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his vision .’ But Ananias answered,’ Lord, I “ve ever heard” from many about this boy, how much cruelty he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon thy name .’ But the Lord said to him,’ Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine to carry My name before the Gentiles and emperors and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much it was necessary to sustain for the sake of My name.’
” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said,’ Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who was reported to you on the road by which you came has sent me that you may regain you sight and be fitted with the Holy spirit .’ And immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was christened, and took food and was strengthened .” From that time forth, Saul went on to preach about Christ. Because he was so well-known as a Pharisee and was now evangelizing for Christ, Saul began being persecuted by his Jewish brethren in the same way he had been persecuting the Christians. At some degree he decided to start using his Roman name, Paul.
After spending some time with the followers of Christ in Damascus, God called Paul to Arabia where he spent at least two years or more in the desert. It is believed that this is where Paul had imaginations much like the eyesight St. John writes about in his book of Revelation. The Lord trained Paul to teach the Gospel, and when Paul returned from the desert, after a short stay in Damascus, “hes been gone” directly to Jerusalem where he met with Peter, our first pope, and some of the other Apostles, to receive Peter’s blessing before he started on his ministry. Paul spent the rest of his life traveling and spreading the Gospel of Jesus, establishing religions and teach others to lead in his absence. Paul’s epistles to the churches that he proved make up over one-fourth of the New Testament. He truly is the greatest missionary in Church history.
From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Reflections to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day
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For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with imperfections, insults, rigors, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
— 2 Corinthians 12:10
Dear St. Paul, I wish I could say that I am content with weakness, mistreatment, distress, persecution, and difficulties, but that is not the case. All too often I complain at the least struggle or trial. Pray for me that I find the grace I need to endure all things for the sake of Christ. Help me to be recognised that when I am most powerless, Christ can buttress me if I surrender my agony to Him. May the strength of Christ fill me, and may I embrace the Cross with courage and conviction.
There is much we can learn from the conversion of St. Paul. One lesson is that we should never judge others. St. Paul, the worst enemy of the early Christians, would seem to be the most unlikely convert to the Church. But God had a plan for Saul, just as He does for each of us. We never know how some tiny thing that we may say or do will affect another person. When Paul watched Stephen die a holy extinction, praying for his tormentors, it had to have an impact on him. And Stephen’s prayer was heard by God. The seed that Stephen planted by his Christian forgiveness of his opponents helped in the conversion of St. Paul. We are all called to be evangelists, to plant seeds of sect wherever we can — in our families and our task homes. We never know when something we do or say might transform another or even delivering a great saint and missionary to the Church like St. Paul.
Dear Lord Jesus, we thank you for St. Paul and his enormous witness in the early Church that is still impacting us today. We pray that You will bring others into today’s Church — our separated friends, who like Paul are so often misguided, and likewise like St. Paul are zealous in their mistreatment of Catholics. We pray that You will bring them back to the one crease and that through their passion for the faith, millions will come to the fullness of Truth. In Your holy identified we pray. Amen.
image: Fra Angelico, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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