Saturday, January 24, 2009



Jesus appeared to the Eleven and said to them, "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly things, it will not harm them. They will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover."

Saul was a good and zealous Pharisee. The son of relatively well-off parents from Tarsus in Cilicia (present day southern Turkey), he had been sent to Jerusalem to study under the renowned teacher Gamaliel. Endowed with bright intelligence and unbending will, he seemed destined for great things in the Jewish establishment. He thoroughly enjoyed the trust of the Jewish religious leaders who looked up to him as a “rising star.”

His zeal for the purity of the Pharisaic love for the Law knew no bounds. When a new “sect” popped up in Israel, whose members followed the teaching of a certain Jesus, a humble carpenter from Nazareth who had claimed to be the Messiah and had ended up crucified like a criminal, young Saul stood wholeheartedly with the authorities. He approved of the stoning of Stephen, an outstanding member of the sect, and even volunteered to arrest and bring to justice any other Jew who was following the same “heresy.”

Having learned that some of them had fled to Damascus, Saul asked the Sanhedrin to authorize him to pursue them even there. And so, the enterprising young man set out for Damascus, determined to put an end to the nonsensical belief in a false messiah who had dared to put love of neighbor above the venerable prescriptions of the Law.

But just as he was about to enter Damascus, Saul had a “close personal encounter” with Jesus, a man he had never met when he used to preach and work miracles throughout Palestine, and who had been executed some ten years earlier. But the person whom Saul met near the gate of Damascus was not a dead man. He was very much alive and full of power. His appearance brought the proud Saul to his knees. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the overpowering vision declared.

That statement and the light that surrounded him threw Saul into a deep, far-reaching crisis. The castle of his certainties crumbled like constructions of sand built by children by the seashore. In its place, the towering figure of Jesus – the risen Christ who identified with His persecuted followers – emerged in all his grandeur. Saul, the fierce and merciless persecutor of the followers of Jesus, surrendered. He grew as meek as a lamb. “What shall I do, Sir?” was his humble question.

It took Saul three years spent in prayer and reflection in the desert of Arabia to realize the implications of what he had seen and heard on the way to Damascus. The conclusion of his prayerful reflection was that Jesus is, indeed, the center of God’s mysterious plan, the fulfillment of God’s promises, the Savior of all mankind. And from that moment, Jesus of Nazareth would remain, for the former Pharisee, the very core of his life.

From that moment on, Paul considered as trash all the things that he had treasured in his former way of life. All that mattered to him was Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, who had given his life for the redemption of all mankind, had risen from death, and had entrusted his Gospel of life to his apostles and to Saul to give hope and salvation to all.

Once he realized those fundamental truths about Jesus and the Church, the persecutor-turned-apostle felt impelled to cross seas and lands to share his wonderful discovery with fellow Jews and pagans alike. He changed his name from Saul to Paul, as a sign that the field of his apostolate had expanded to include the whole Roman world.

Such was Paul’s unshakable faith and love for Christ that burned deep in his heart. For the spread of that faith, Paul endured endless trials and labors, beatings and imprisonments; frequent brushes with death, until he actually laid down his life for the Jesus he had once considered as a “fake messiah.”

After two thousand years, Paul’s figure towers as tall as ever. He was a man of deep faith, a man of boundless love, a man of unquenchable hope – a man who remains an inspiration to all and who shows us in practice what it means to love Christ and believe in the Gospel.

Euchalette, 25 January 2009
MCPO Box 1820, Makati City 1258, Philippines