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Forty days before the Triduum, the Lenten season disposes Catechumens and the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery through prayer and penitential practices.
Paul, Apostle and Martyr, c. 5-65
Especially during Lent, we are called to conversion. Our saint of the week had one of the more dramatic conversion experiences. He began as an oppressor of the members of the early Church and later became one of the great saints of our Church.
Paul—named Saul at birth—was born of Jewish parents around the year 5 A.D. in Tarsus, which also made him a citizen of Rome. He studied under a renowned rabbi in Jerusalem and became a rigid Pharisee and an obsessed persecutor of the Christians. According to Scripture, Saul was present at the stoning of Stephen, but only as a spectator. Sometime between 34 and 36, he was on his way to Damascus to arrest some Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem for trial. It was on this journey that he experienced the vision of God which led to his conversion and, in view of his tremendous impact on the early church, shaped the entire Christian experience.
Following his conversion, Saul spent the next three years in Arabia before returning to Damascus to preach. He went to Jerusalem sometime between the years, 36 and 39 where he met the other apostles and, under the sponsorship of Barnabas, was accepted into the Christian community. With Barnabas, he began the first of his three missionary journeys around 45. It was during this journey that his name was changed to Paul.
On his return from this first journey, Paul was successful in convincing Peter and the other apostles that Gentile Christians need not have Jewish law imposed upon them. Armed with the approval of Peter, Paul and Barnabas set out on their second missionary journey to the Gentiles in 49. This mission was followed by a third journey between the years 53 and 58.
When he returned to Jerusalem in 58, Paul was attacked by a mob for his missions to the Gentiles and was placed under protective arrest by Roman soldiers. Paul was eventually sent to Rome for trial (which was his right as a Roman citizen) and remained under house arrest for two years. This is the last mention of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles, the main source of material about him.
According to writers a few years after his death and to tradition, Paul made yet another journey following his imprisonment (63-67). During this last journey, he was again arrested and returned to Rome where, according to Eusebius, he was executed on the same day as St. Peter during the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Nero.
Paul was an important writer and apostle who had a tremendous impact on the early church. His influence shaped the entire Christian experience, and continues to this day. His epistles to the Romans, his pastoral letters to his Timothy and Titus, and his letters to the various Christian communities which he was instrumental in converting form an important part of church teaching.
We celebrate the conversion of St. Paul on January 25, while the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles, is celebrated on June 29.
Paul’s message today: None of us are likely to have as strong an influence on the Church as Paul has had through history. However, we are all capable of influencing our community and those with whom we live and work.