Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Apostle
(Acts 22:3-16; Mark 16:15-18)
Today ends the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. “What’s that?” many people ask, even people who come to church regularly. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was established over a hundred years ago. It addresses the contradiction of Jesus’ church being divided up as if it were an indigenous territory that was parceled in a land rush. In the Gospel of John Jesus prays: “’…that all of them may be one as You, Father, are in me, and I am in you’” (John 17:21). As it now stands, Christians are no more one than the colors of the rainbow.
The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul closes the week of prayer. It is worthwhile to ponder why. Of course, Paul is universally admired. Protestants see his insight of “salvation by faith in Christ” as particularly critical to Christian self-understanding, which it is. Catholic priests and sisters have made Paul their model in the profession of celibacy. But a deeper reason explains the choice of Paul as the patron of unity. As the name of the feast indicates, Paul underwent conversion. He changed his mind and heart. He was the persecutor of Christ who became his greater promoter. Something like Paul’s conversion must take place in Christians if there is ever to be unity.
The conversion called for here is akin to the change of heart preached every Lent. We must humble ourselves before God and one another. We must not think of ourselves as better than others because we are traditional Catholics or “everyone’s welcome” Protestants. Rather we must listen to Christ speaking through one another. And we must bend to accept one another as a brother or sister. We cannot compromise fundamental principles for a superficial unity. But we can establish partnerships that transcend differences.