By Paul Thigpen
The feast of the Conversion of St. Paul has great personal significance for me. I, too, am a convert, twice over: from atheism to Jesus Christ, and from the Protestant tradition to the Catholic Church.
After my first conversion, I followed biblical precedents (Abraham, Sarah, Jacob) in taking a new name to signify that I was a new person. Having always gone by my first name, Thomas, I began using instead my middle name, Paul. I wanted to emulate the great apostle's passion for God, evangelizing zeal and pastoral wisdom. He became a marvelous personal patron for me.
Saints' days are usually associated with their deaths. As far as I know, this is the only feast on the Church calendar commemorating a saint's conversion. Why, we might ask, is this particular conversion so important to the Church?
The Book of Acts tells how Jesus apprehended Paul on the road to Damascus and shows just how critical was that event in the Church's beginnings. This tireless convert, once the Church's chief opponent, founded so many churches that he came to be known as "the second founder of Christianity" after Jesus Christ himself.
But that's not all. So great was Paul's authority among the early Christians that the Church eventually declared, by the Holy Spirit's direction, that many of his letters were inspired Scripture. In fact, St. Paul is the author of more biblical books than any other scriptural writer.
As a result, he has profoundly shaped the life and faith of the Church down through the ages -- not to mention Western civilization as a whole -- in ways he himself probably could never have imagined.
Is it any wonder, then, that the Church recently announced a "Year of St. Paul"? From June 28 of this year through June 29, 2009, we're called to celebrate his (roughly) 2,000th birthday. The year will be marked by countless commemorative cultural, liturgical and scholarly events in Rome and throughout the world.
Vatican officials are urging Catholics everywhere to study St. Paul in Scripture so they can revitalize their faith in the light of his life and teachings. To contribute to that goal, every issue of TCA during the Pauline Year will include at least one feature to help you have a life-changing encounter with the apostle.
Our parent company, Our Sunday Visitor, will also be publishing materials for use in your study. Go online to www.osv.com for more information.
Don't let this wonderful opportunity pass you by. It's time to rediscover St. Paul! TCA
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