MANILA, Philippines — We celebrate Wednesday the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. This event he often describes in his letters to the churches and is narrated three times in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9:3-9, Acts 22:6-21, Acts 26:12-18).
Before his conversion, Saul – his original name – was a “zealous” Pharisee going after those who, he believed, were deviating from the Jewish religion. He himself told this story in his letter to the Galatians: “For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and waste it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:13-14).
On his way to Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly shone around him and a voice told him: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5b). From this point in his life, he left his old self and became the bearer of Jesus’ message of salvation to all.
In his first missionary journey, he, together with Barnabas, visited the island of Cypress, then Pamphylia, Pisidia, and Lycaonia, all in Asia Minor, and established churches at Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. Soon after the Apostolic Council of Jerusalem, Paul, accompanied by Silas and later also by Timothy and Luke, made his second missionary journey – first revisiting the churches previously established by him in Asia Minor, and then passing through Galatia. At Troas, a vision of a Macedonian impressed him as a call from God to evangelize in Macedonia.
He accordingly sailed for Europe, and preached the Gospel in Philippi, Thessalonia, Beroea, Athens, and Corinth. He returned to Antioch by way of Ephesus and Jerusalem. On his third missionary journey, Paul visited nearly the same regions as on the second trip, but made Ephesus, where he remained nearly three years, the center of his missionary activity. He laid plans for another missionary journey, intending to leave Jerusalem for Rome and Spain.
But persecutions by the Jews kept him from accomplishing his purpose. After two years of imprisonment in Caesarea, he was brought to Rome where he was kept in prison for another two years. There, tradition holds, he was martyred.
Let us allow the story of Paul to move and inspire us to live a life in the spirit. Ours is truly a God of second chances. May we all look up to Paul as our model in following Jesus. It is never too late to follow Jesus. God gives us the opportunity to live a life in Christ. May Saint Paul always intercede for us.