If you were a member of the Church in its earliest days, one of the people you’d have thought most unlikely to become a follower of Christ was Saul of Tarsus. Saul was a Pharisee, a brilliant young scholar of the Law, and a zealous defender of his tradition. He believed the Christian sect was an abomination and sought to stamp it out. He oversaw the trial and execution of Stephen, one of the first deacons of the Church. And he received written authorization from the high priest in Jerusalem to arrest Jewish converts to Christianity who had fled to Damascus to escape his murderous wrath (Acts 9:1-22). Our Lord had told His disciples, “Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). Christ’s words applied to Saul, who was absolutely convinced of the righteousness of his position, and believed that violence against Christians was entirely necessary and justified. But on that journey to Damascus, Saul had a dramatic encounter with the risen Christ, who revealed to Saul that what he had thought was good and necessary was in fact evil. The sect that Saul thought an abomination against the Lord was actually His precious Church. The encounter with Christ left Saul blind. Despondent, he grieved in darkness for three days, eating and drinking nothing. But the Lord had plans for Saul. On the road, He had revealed to Saul that the Christians were precious to Him. Now, God was about to send someone to reveal that Saul too was precious to Him. At the Lord’s direction, a Christian named Ananias went to where Saul was staying, laid his hands on him, and said: “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” The scales fell from his eyes, and Saul was baptized. He would become St. Paul, the greatest Christian missionary who ever lived.
The feast day of St. Paul’s conversion is this Wednesday (1/25), just two days after the day designated by the US Bishops as a special day of prayer for the legal protection of unborn children (1/23). With the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson last June, which made abortion once again subject to state regulation, some states proceeded to pass very restrictive laws against abortion. But there were also many states that passed laws that greatly expanded access to abortion. California even offered to pay transportation costs of those who wanted to avail themselves of its liberal abortion laws. Moreover, Congress recently failed to pass legislation that would require medical attention be given to a child born alive after an attempted abortion. These responses reveal not only the need to continue working hard for greater protection of human life in legislatures, but also the need for the conversion of hearts, beginning always with our own. If we care about building up an authentic culture of life, we must be able to articulate why legal protection for the unborn is important. But we must also show through the way we live our lives and by the public policies we support that we truly believe that every human life, every human being is precious. Realizing that you are precious to God, no matter who you are, where you’re from, where you’ve been, or what you’ve done, is essential to the process of conversion. And conversion can produce unexpected allies as it produces new friends in Christ, as the story of St. Paul attests.