By Devin Watkins
In the Acts of the Apostles, Saul was a religious ideologue who persecuted Jesus’ early followers.
That same sinful man became Paul after his dramatic conversion to Christianity, offering us an example of the power of God’s love for each of us.
Pope Francis reflected on that model of life-changing love in his catechesis at the Wednesday General Audience, and he compared St Paul’s unconverted actions to those of modern dictatorships.
He said Saul hunted and captured early Christians, under the authority of the High Priest.
“You who come from those peoples who were persecuted by dictatorships,” said the Pope, “you understand well what it means to hunt and capture people. This is what Saul did.”
Pope Francis added that religion, for Saul, had become a religious, social, and political ideology.
Saul’s anger and conflictual attitude, he said, are an invitation to ask ourselves whether we meet other people or set ourselves up against others.
“Do I belong to the universal Church – with the good and the bad, all of us – or do I hold a selective ideology? Do I adore God or a dogmatic formulation?” he asked.
Conversion to Christ
God, said Pope Francis, converted Saul by touching his heart. He was blinded by a light along the road to Damascus, and Saul heard a voice asking him why he was persecuting Jesus.
“An attack against a member of the Church is an attack against Christ himself! And those who are ideologues because they desire the so-called “purity” of the Church are attacking Christ.”
After his conversion, Paul’s life is transformed, and what he previously considered his “glory” became “dross” to be discarded in Christ’s name.
Baptized into new life
Pope Francis said Paul then accepts Baptism, transforming the course of his life.
“Baptism marks – as it does for all of us – the beginning of a new life, which is accompanied by a new view of God, ourselves, and others, who are turned from enemies into brothers and sisters in Christ.”