Today is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. It is the day on which we commemorate and celebrate Our Lord’s miraculous intervention in the life of a man consumed by pride, legalism, and hatred, so that he might become one of the world’s most powerful preachers of humility, grace, and love. The Holy Scriptures are very clear about who Saul of Tarsus was prior to his conversion. In his Epistle to the Galatians, Saint Paul recounts, “For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (1:13-14) Likewise, in the Acts of the Apostle, Saint Paul testifies, “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” (26:9-11)
We know that Saint Paul was on one such trip to hunt down, ferret out, persecute and destroy Christians in Damascus, when he had a Divine encounter with the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We know that his life was never the same after that encounter. We know that those who ministered to him were so shocked by his conversion that they were afraid it was a ruse intended to catch believers.
I can relate to Saint Paul. Prior to my own conversion, I was what Friedrich Schleiermacher would have called one of the “Cultured Despisers,” though I was not nearly as cultured or intelligent as I would have thought. I argued with, mocked, and maligned the Christians who openly professed their faith, not because I had a better way (had I been honest with myself at the time, I would have known I was lost), but because of something inside of me. Obviously, that was quite a long time ago and things have changed quite a bit, thanks be to God.
The Conversion of Saint Paul reminds us that, no matter how much we have maligned and despised those around us who followed after Jesus, there is still hope for us and a place in the Kingdom of God. I may have mocked and maligned, but I doubt I really rocked anyone’s faith, and I certainly never murdered anyone. I never even held anyone’s coat while others did so, as we see that Saint Paul did at the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. (Acts of the Apostles 7:57-60)
There is hope for all of us. This week I heard of a woman who lived and is living out an experience like that of Saint Paul’s today. Abby Johnson worked for eight years for the single largest provider of abortions in America—Planned Parenthood. She was even employee of the year—that is nationwide not just at her local clinic! There is no way of telling just how many children went helplessly and defenselessly to their death while Abby “held their coats.” She may not have thrown the stone, but one day she was asked to hold the ultra-sound probe. One of the new doctors in the clinic chose to do an ultra-sound guided abortion and needed Abby to hold the probe. She did not see a lump of tissue or a ball of cells or a zygote or a fetus or anything else the pro-choice marketers have tried to suggest they deal with. She saw a perfectly healthy baby, not at all unlike the baby she had seen on her own ultra-sound a few months prior.
She saw that perfectly healthy baby die. She saw her be dismembered and sucked out through a hose while the abortionist made a joke.
That changed her life.
Since then, Abby has become involved with the Pro-Life movement. She is a public speaker who works with the Forty Days for Life campaigns and she has recently written a book detailing her story. Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line is now available at book retailers across the country and on-line at Amazon.com. You can preview the book’s first chapter by following this link.
I think Saint Paul would be proud.
O God, who by the preaching of your apostle Paul have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.