St. Paul, Conversion, and You

Imagine setting off on a long journey over dusty roads to imprison and kill the members of a radical group who threatened your way of life; people who actually thought they could change the way you worshiped. They had to be stopped, everywhere, and there’s nothing on this earth that could change your mind – so it would have to be from heaven: a thunderous voice and a blinding light that cast you to the ground might do it. The God you thought you were fighting for all of the sudden asks why you persecute Him, and your whole life changed (even your name!); you could never go back to who you were, and now you find yourself actually joining this new group in proclaiming the life and salvation found in Jesus Christ.

All the Bright Lights

This is precisely what happened to St. Paul on his journey to persecute distant Christians before he became the avid disciple who would write those ever-famous letters to early churches all across the known world.

As we celebrate his feast on January 25th, it’s important to remember why his account is written for us to read at all, and the importance it holds. Recall that the book of Acts was written as the earliest account of the Church, of Christianity. The conversion of Paul showcases the power of God, the extent He would go to for his Church, and the way He can turn around even those furthest from Him. It exemplifies His grace and gives a demonstration of how anyone can become a follower of Christ. The thing is, we need this reminder just as much as the early Christians did. Why? Well, because conversions happen to us daily!

I know – when was the last time you heard of a friend falling blinded by the voice of God? You probably haven’t. But the whole idea isn’t about all the bright lights; it’s about the work inside. And that is something which remains very real, even today.

When We Don’t Get What We Expect

If you’re wishing you could hear a voice from Heaven like St. Paul did, I’m right there raising my hand with you. I ask for it all. the. time. And it needs to be super clear because I’m stubborn and I have to be positive about things from the start. I have a bad habit of holding out for the big moments, and not thinking anything special happens day by day. But I’m slowly learning how wrong that is.

We’re transformed by small moments just as much as Paul was in a flash. How? Because God knows exactly how it is that we need to be changed, and He gives us the opportunities if we take them. For some, that might mean hearing an inexplicable whisper and changing colleges mid-year, without a plan; or waking up from a vision in the middle of the night. And for others, it’s a series of changes – maybe over a weekend retreat; maybe over two years. It’s always going to look different, so try not to compare your conversion story to others.

Often, we mistake conversion for a feeling. It’s (actually) not the feeling you get in the middle of the best worship song of the year. It’s not the sensation on a retreat that when you go home, you can do anything. And it’s certainly not the contentment after all your prayers are answered and you think, “maybe life isn’t so bad after all.” Conversion is about being able to do something with your love for God afterward.

What about Me?

As a cradle Catholic, I hear stories of how others came to the Faith. Beautiful stories of coming back after years away, or of coming to Mass for the first time and knowing they wanted to be a part of the Church within one year. I always thought I would never have an experience like that – how could I? What I didn’t realize is, again, that conversion looks different for everyone. Conversion doesn’t mean you have to adopt a new faith – it means something is moving inside of you, and you’re coming to a newer or deeper reality. It’s about your relationship with God, and growing closer to Him: moments you can have in your everyday life.

One of my favorite ways to recognize these moments is keeping a journal. If it feels difficult to see how you’re growing, it’s a perfect way to provide a glance back at how far you’ve come. Sometimes it takes looking at where you’ve started to realize that you’ve been changing on your way to who you are now.

Another great way is to take some silent time in adoration to self-reflect. Ask yourself – and Jesus – some tough questions about how you’ve been doing lately. This can help you not only realize areas in your life that you might need more of God’s presence, but also to be grateful for what He’s already done for you.

Ever Forward

It’s not enough to not go backward – we have to continue forwards. In the months leading up to my Confirmation, I did everything I could get my hands on by way of preparation – all the way down to reading the whole Bible in one year. But after the Sacrament, I stopped. My plans just hadn’t gone any further, so I found myself in a dry season and didn’t even know why. It took me almost two years to figure out that I had gone so wrong by not relentlessly continuing my spiritual progress.

It seems so obvious now, but it wasn’t then. I was in a good place. I would even say I was going pretty strong. But the thing about Christ is that we’re not called to simply be “pretty strong.” Did you notice that Acts spends a mere twenty verses (Acts 9:1-20) detailing how Paul went from persecuting the church to proclaiming the name of Jesus in Synagogues? Everything else revolves around the continuing development of the Church because that’s the real goal of conversion at all: a calling to manifest the will of God on this earth until we’re with Him in the next.

We can’t know that will, though, unless we know its Designer. That’s why conversion is always about our relationship with God, and continuously coming closer to Him. That won’t always look like a straight line, because sometimes we go on ups and downs. But our focus has to be on Him, and we have to be willing to open our lives and hearts to Him. Sometimes, no wonderful feeling comes along with it. Sometimes, we just have to continue our own willingness and trust in God’s timing.

The conversion that takes place in your day to day life won’t always be accompanied by bright lights and voices. Sometimes it’s a quiet whisper deep down that guides you to do something right, or it’s your determination to improve your relationship with Christ. It doesn’t happen once and then stop forever. We’re called forward again and again, and the most important part is not the moment at which we feel our strongest, but what we choose to do for God with our lives afterward.