The following paragraph is taken from the "Catholic Almanac"
Paul: Born at Tarsus, of a tribe of Benjamin, a Roman citizen; participated in the persecution of Christians until the time of his miraculous conversion on the way to Damascus; called by Christ, who revealed himself to him in a special way; became the Apostles of the Gentiles, among whom he did most of his preaching in the course of three major missionary journeys through areas north of Palestine, Cyprus, Asia Minor and Greece; 14 epistles bear his name; two years of imprisonment at Rome, following initial arrest in Jerusalem and confinement at Caesarea, ended with martyrdom, by beheading, outside the walls of the city in 64 or 67 during the Neronian persecution; in art, is depicted in various ways with St Peter, with a sword, in the scene of his conversion; June 29 (with St Peter), Jan 25 (Conversion).
I - Saul's (Paul's) background and first experience of Jesus Christ.
II - Recovery from blindness, Paul's baptism and effects.
III - How Paul's entire life changed after his conversion.
IV - Paul's unabated zeal, peace and love for Jesus Christ, the Church and its members.
V - How Paul's writings reveal his transforming union with God.
The following is taken from "Lives of the Saints" by Butler and edited by Michael Walsh with a forward by Cardinal Basil Hume, O.S.B., Archbishop of Westminster, Harper & Row, Publishers, San Francisco.
The Apostle of the Gentiles was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin. At his circumcision on the eight day after his birth he received the name of Saul, and being born at Tarsus in Cilicia, he was by privilege a Roman citizen. His parents sent him when young to Jerusalem, and there he was instructed in the law of Moses by Gamaliel, a learned and noble Pharisee. Thus Saul became a scrupulous observer of the law, and he appealed even to his enemies to bear witness how conformable to it his life had always been. He too embraced the party of the Pharisees, which was of all others the most severe, even while it was, in some of its members, the most opposed to the humility of the gospel. It is probable that Saul learned in his youth the trade which he practised even after his apostleship - namely, that of making tents. Later on Saul, surpassing his fellows in zeal for the Jewish law and traditions, which he thought the cause of God, became a persecutor and enemy of Christ: he was one of those who took part in the murder of St Stephen. In the fury of his zeal he applied to the high priest for a commission to arrest all Jews at Damascus who confessed Jesus Christ, and bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Saul was almost at the end of his journey to Damascus when, about noon, he and his company were on a sudden surrounded by a great light from Heaven. They all saw this light, and being struck with amazement fell to the ground. Then Saul heard a voice which to him was articulate and distinct, though not understood by the rest: 'Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me?' Saul answered, 'Who are thou, Lord?' Christ said, 'Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.' Christ told him to arise and proceed on his journey to his destination, where he would learn what was expected of him. When he got up from the ground Saul found that though his eyes were open he could see nothing.
There was a Christian in Damascus much respected for his life and virtue, whose name was Ananias. Christ appeared to this disciple and commanded him to go to Saul, who was then in the house of Judas at prayer. Ananias trembled at the name of Saul, being no stranger to the mischief he had done in Jerusalem, or the errand on which he had travelled to Damascus. But he went to Saul, and laying his hands upon him said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to thee on thy journey, hath sent me that thou mayest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost'. Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he recovered his sight.
Saul arose, was baptized, and ate. He stayed some days with the disciples at Damascus, and began immediately to preach in the synagogues that Jesus was the Son of God, to the great astonishment of all that heard him, who said, 'Is not this he who at Jerusalem persecuted those who called on the name of Jesus, and who is come hither to carry them away prisoners?' Thus a blasphemer and a persecutor was made an apostle, and chosed to be one of the principal instruments of God in the conversion of the world.
God can change sinners to saints immediately or after a delay. We do not believe that Paul became a saint immediately but we know that he was filled with the Holy Ghost that would enable him to become a potential follower of Jesus and leave his former way of life that had been directly opposite. Paul was blind and helpless. He didn't despair. He prayed. He was in the house of Judas at prayer before his baptism. Paul was praying when he was blind.
This dramatic converson of Saul to Paul can happen to anyone when we are humble, ask the right questions and obey God who will lead us to be told what to do with our lives.
Obviously, this particular type of conversion is most unusual but God is all-powerful and can change a murderer to follow after Him. All things are possible with God and Jesus comes after us in His special way which will benefit us, and God means business. Naturally, we must be open, sincere, follow directions and listen to the light that breaks in upon us.
This light hit Saul and the others but it was only Saul who heard the voice. Why? We do not know.
God can communicate to us but we must want to hear the message and respond to it. Saul cooperated with the grace of conversion. How do we know this? Paul was helpless. Paul was devastated. Paul was humiliated. Yet, Paul was praying. Paul allowed the light to penetrate him and prepare him to accept conversion.
This was only the first day of his conversion. Every day humans need to convert, receive the light, hear the words of God and act on them to be pleasing to God.
This example of Paul is given to us to assure us that no matter how much we may currently oppose God, God wants to win us as Jesus won Paul to be his special friend and follower. It can happen even when we are friends or foes of God, when we hate Christians as Saul did, and even if we have persecuted the Church of Christ. God still wants us to cooperate with grace as St Paul did. He shows us the way and the possibilites from his life which we will now relate.
The above conversion of St Paul is a major turning point of his life. From that experience nothing remained the same. It was as mysterious in coming as it was in the swiftness that it came.
The below writing is taken from a Franciscan Priest, Leonard Foley, O.F.M., from his book named: "Saint of the Day".
Paul's entire life can be explained in terms of one experience - his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, though he was only some years older. But he had acquired a zealot's hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: "... entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment" (Act 8:3b). Now he himself was "entered," possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal - being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Savior.
One sentence determined his theology: "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting" (Act 9:5b). Jesus was mysteriously identified with people - the loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfillment of all he had been blindly pursuing.
From then on, his only work was to "present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me". (Colossians 2:28b-29). "For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction" (1 Thessalonians 1:5a).
Paul's life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ's victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new.
So Paul's great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ, a commitment that then bears fruit in more "works" than the Law could ever contemplate.
This famous missionary to the Gentiles pictured above is a grand model for all creatures for all have fallen from God's graces. Paul was called as we are today by God to show forth the talent and gifts that God has given us. This will happen when we surrender to the Almighty's all powerful will and are sorry for past sins and seek God with our whole heart and soul as Saul did.
Paul is a testament that God pursues us relentlessly to make us holy and pleasing to his Church and humanity even when we have persecuted both. He is the first great missionary to the Gentiles after his dramatic conversion. Paul reminded the Gentiles that they were still God's chosen people and children of the promise. He never lost sight of his deep Jewish roots but he strongly emphasized that the law was superceded by the Christ who alone can save us with His peace and power.
St Paul had witness this saving power and grace by a blinding light from the heavens. This was an experience that left him blind and helpless. Jesus appeared to him in a vision that changed his entire life.
Paul had been the most Pharisaic of Pharisees, the most legalistic of Mosaic lawyers. When he submitted to Christ, Paul became Christ's champion and would preach the gospel to the non-Jewish population as no other before him.
No one of Christ's followers became more zealous and courageous nor more traveled than this mighty warrior for Christ. Paul endured persecution, humiliation and daily suffering and weakness. He had many daily trials, tribulations and testing periods as Christ's ambassador.
Christ transformed Paul gradually through His confrontations and hostilities as he went about preaching, writing and defending the Man-God, Jesus Christ. He had never seen Him in real life, but certainly through faith came to understand
and experience His profound union with Him.
Anyone who reads St Paul will understand that he was raised up to a very high level of knowledge and love of God. His writings in the New Testament in Romans reveal the righteousness of God.
In Corinthians 1 and 2 Paul explains that Jesus is the rock that followed Israel and the triumphant One who gives victory.
Paul knew through his experience that Christ is the liberty that will set one free which he described in Galatians.
In Ephesians, Paul elaborates how Christ is the head of the Church and a marvelous example of the Mystical Body.
Through the epistles of Philippians and Colossians, he tells us that Jesus is our true joy and completeness.
In Thessalonians, the Messiah is our ultimate
hope and patience and discipline for
One of Paul's recruits is young Timothy, and through those two books named after him, Paul
assures us of the importance of our faith in Jesus and its stability.
By means of the last three epistles, Titus, Philemon and Hebrews, Paul highlights that Christ is the truth, our benefactor and He is our perfection.
No saint was more articulate, bold or daring. The Spirit moved and motivated his every step. He was tortured, tried and tested with untold beatings and finally was decapitated after many years of imprisonment and crosses. He bore them all lovingly and considered it a priviledge to suffer
for his brother, Jesus.
The Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls, the second largest Roman church after the Vatican, stands near the bank of the Tiber River. It stands on the burial place of the Apostle to the Gentiles and has never ceased to be the destination of pilgrims and ordinary visitors. St Paul was buried in the small graveyard adjacent to Via Ostiensis, not far from the area called Ad Aquas Salvias (nowadays known as Three Fountains) where he was martyred in 67AD.
From the book entitled "The Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls" by Anna Maria Cerioni-Roberto Del Signore, we find this statement in the Introduction: "Paul is the greatest announcer of the mystery of salvation and the unequalled doctor of the mystical Body of Jesus Christ which is the Church."
"Above all we must not neglect the fact that Saint Paul's Tomb lies below the high altar (in the Basilica-as Peter is in the Vatican). It was St Paul, joint patron saint of Rome, apostle who brought the Gospel to the Nations, who tegether with Peter the Prince of the Apostles offered God the supreme proof of his Christian love by turning the soul of Rome purple with his own blood."
A statue of St Paul grasping a long sword crossing his heart stands in front of the Basilica. His lifelong work of speaking, living and writing the holy words and examples of Jesus
Christ was his daily passion. He cherished Christ's words with his whole heart, mind and soul and lived them to the fullest. Like St Peter, the other Prince of the Apostles, Paul fought the good fight in spreading the faith through his
life and death and persevered to the end, revealing his great love for God and neighbor.
Life and creation cry aloud and reflect the infinite beauty and glory of the infinite Creator. God is Savior of the world and redeems all peoples with His holy coming, life and resurrection. Jesus Christ is the Lover of life and offers us peace even amidst death, war and crime.
Paul's mission and that of anyone who generously imitates Jesus, will find abundant and unlimited peace and love in their lives. This powerful and consoling joy, energy and force will move, drive and unite one completely with Our Lord and Savior in doing God's holy will.
Union with God is the highest possible state that any creature can attain and it is readily attainable if one is single, married, secular, religious or clergy. It is a blissful state amidst any pain, suffering and sorrows inherent in life. It doesn't matter how young or old you are or even if you are disabled or able. There are no educational requirements for lovers or those who ardently seek union with God except desire, goodwill and charity toward all. God is holy and infinitely desirous of everyone to be robed in that same holiness.
God, you are clothed with light,
As with a garment fair,
And in your holy sight
The saints your beauty wear;
The heav'ns and all therein express
The glory of your holiness.
Give me a robe of light
That I may walk with you:
Bright as the stars are bright,
Pure as their light is pure;
Whose texture sin shall never stain,
But ever undefiled remain.
O Christ, I lift my eyes;
Your love for me I own;
In your great sacrifice
Remains my hope alone;
The robe is mine, my soul to dress,
Of everlasting righteousness.
The above Hymn taken from the "Magnificat" Publication, Edition, May 2003.
The writings of the Apostles to the Gentiles are brought to the attention of the faithful more than any other writer. In the liturgical readings throughout the year Paul's writings are constantly before us. Today some question the Pauline origins of several of his epistles. Be that as it may, all of his fourteen books remain an integral part of the canon of the New Testament endorsed by the universal Church. No one need ever doubt the authenticity and genuineness of the Bible that is sanctioned by the Church.
The coverage and rich text of what Paul writes about is comprehensive and homilists sometimes have a tendency to explain and expound on the epistle readings more than the elegant beauty of the gospel that seems simple, ordinary and stark. Jesus' words in the gospel are deep and boundless, yet plain. We sometimes cannot plumb the eternal depths and meaning because our God's words are spoken in parables and stories.
Paul's theology and philosophy are not textbookish. What Paul wrote about, he experienced so much so that he was quite unable to put into words the spiritual experience given to him by God's Spirit.
Paul often speaks about the heights, depths, width of topics that are beyond his own comprehension. He admits of speaking and writing about a certain wisdom. It is not a wisdom of his times or ours. It is God's wisdom which is always mysterious and a hidden wisdom. Of this wisdom, "eye has not seen and ear has not heard", nor has it so much as dawned on humankind what God has prepared for those who love Him.
God revealed this wisdom to Paul and us today through the same Spirit because the Spirit scrutinizes all matters, even the deep things of God. Paul tells us: who knows a man's innermost self but the man's own spirit within him? Similarly, no one knows what lies at the depths of God but the Spirit of God.
Christians know that that all Scripture is inspired by God. For that reason, when we read Paul or any of the inspired authors of the Old or New Testaments we might be reading it for the very first time even though we may have heard and read it previously. The reason for that is because the Spirit of God makes all things anew! What we may gain in understanding, meaning and interpretation may be so surprising that it seems that we have never understood or seen it in this new manner.
The subjects that Paul covers are quite broad in many books of the New Testament. Reading Paul is different than reading any non-biblical writers primarily because one is reading inspired words. This doesn't mean that other writers are not inspired but the Bible has always held a preeminent place in sacred reading.
The below is taken from Joan Carroll Cruz'z book entitled "Mysteries, Marvels and Miracles in the Lives of the Saints. Published by Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., Rockford, Illinois 61105.
Chapter 33 is named "Wells, Springs and Holy Water" and the section of St Paul starts by saying:.
An underground oratory of four rooms located beneath the church of Santa Maria in Via Lata contains paintings of the imprisonment of St Paul (d.circa 65), as well as remnants of an ancient building. Here is found a fountain which is said to have appeared miraculously in answer to the prayers of St. Paul when he baptized his converts. During the Middle Ages this well was frequently used when there were water shortages in Rome.
The Roman church of San Paolo Alle Tre Fontane (St Paul of the Three Fountains) was built in the 16th century over the spot where St Paul was beheaded. In the sanctuary is the low marble column to which the Saint is said to have been bound at the time of his execution. Also found there is a marble block on which he was beheaded. St Gregory the Great mentions the execution of St. Paul and the place of execution, but sometimes later, legend tells that the decapitated head bounded on the grassy slope, legend tells that the decapitated head bounded on the grassy slope. At the three places where the head of the Saint touched, fountains sprang up which are now protected by three small marble buildings.
For information on spiritual reading of Paul or anyone click on the below link for details and scroll down to the section entitled: Spiritual Reading and Praying with the Doctors.
The above link focuses primarily on spiritual reading. This link is a companion website to the Apostles site.
The remaining information on St Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, will center on his writings along specific themes. The first will be the theme of the Cross. The cross is central to Christianity and without the cross there is no real Christianity.
After Saul's conversion, Paul was plagued by crosses, trials and dangers. Even after Paul was baptised by Ananias, he was feared by many. Even Ananias, who was reluctant to baptized him, feared him. It was really the words of our Lord to Ananias that strengthened him to baptize Saul.
Consider how Paul is treated after his conversion when he starts to preach. In the "Acts of the Apostles," chapter thirteen, Paul and Barnabas are run out of town by hostile forces.
In the quote below from 2Cor 11:24-30, we hear the many dangers he faced throughout his lifetime and journeys.
Five times, I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
Consider the seven types of dangers that St Paul faced above. This is not to mention anything of the more deadly spiritual battles that the saints confront with the seven capital sins that are of a spiritual nature. Paul is writing of his experience with physical, not spiritual, dangers.
It would be very easy for anyone to accuse Paul of being full of spiritual pride. He was a leader before his conversion and he was a leader after his conversion. Grace builds on nature, it doesn't destroy it. Paul was very proud of being considered among the twelve Apostles of the Lord and at the same time considered himself the least of the Apostles for having persecuted the Church of God. His humility kept any pride in check. Paul tells us repeatedly that we need to cling to the cross of Jesus in humility because it is only in the cross that we should glory.
The Apostle to the Gentiles had every reason to envy his upbringing and education. He was a Roman citizen and by far the best educated of all the apostles. However, he fully understood that the Rabbi of Life, whom he never personally saw, spiritually taught him to imitate Him and always take the position of a servant as the Master and Teacher of Life had done.
Paul had every reason to express anger on how he was treated in an effort to help others know more about Jesus. He knew not to give vent to his passions. He tells us to put to spiritual death what is earthly in us, especially passions.
The preaching of Paul reveals that covetousness is to be avoided and shunned always for it is a form of idolatry.
On the last three capital sins of gluttony, sloth and lust, Paul tells us that "I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified."
Paul continues: "Put to death (spiritually) therefore what is earthly in you such as immorality, impurity, evil desires..."
Finally the saint tells us to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit because those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
The man of Tarsus is sometimes referred to as the Apostle of suffering, not because he suffered more but because his suffering is perhaps described more extensively. God has a distinct way of allowing each of us to bear what we are able but the Almighty never gives us that which we are not able to cope with or beyond our strength to endure. His grace is always sufficient for us. At least on one occasion Paul asked God to deliver him from one trial that was more troublesome to him but the reply was "my grace is sufficient for you". Another time he writes that "by the grace of God, I am what I am."
Through his trials and suffering, Paul is made to understand the reason for pain and he writes to us
stating that we are carrying in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested. Paul assures us that God will comfort us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Christians should not waste their pain. We don't waste our pleasure. Give all to God. God wants all of us especially the more difficult parts for these truly show our goodwill toward God's will when we are tested and tried. Paul goes on to earnestly plead with us in the "Epistle to the Romans," words of encouragement and wisdom regarding suffering and pain and what to do with it.
And now, brothers, I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age (or any age) but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so that you may judge what is God's will, what is good, pleasing and perfect...be patient under trial, persevere in prayer.
The theme of the Mystical Body of Christ runs through Paul's thoughts and words as he writes, especially when it come to the cross, pain and suffering. When we offer ourselves up as a living sacrifice we are uniting ourselves to the crucified Savior and helping others through a redemptive role as Christ did. Our part is only small but it is nevertheless important. We make up in some small way, if that is possible, what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. Obviously nothing was lacking from Christ because He was perfect and eternal but since Christ suffers now no more, Christians are a prolongation or extension of Christ's redemption for humankind when we offer them in Jesus' name.
In conclusion I will quote from the book entitled "They Bore the Wounds of Christ" by Michael Freze, S.F.O., published by Our Sunday Vistor Publishing Division, Huntington, Indiana.
All the great minds in the history of the Church are unanimous in proclaiming that devotion to the Cross of our Lord is both meritorious and necessary for the advancement in the spiritual life. This is one devotion that every victim soul has made a vital part of his life, and one that every Christian is called to follow, whether they follow the ordinary path that God has willed for them, or for those called to the higher mystical states.
The following links provides insight on St Paul: