Does it surprise you that a man who once wanted to put Christians to death became one of the Church’s greatest saints? That man is St. Paul.
Paul, who was named Saul, was born in Tarsus, in the country we now call Turkey. As a boy, he learned the family business—making and repairing tents—from his father. Saul’s family were faithful Jews. They prayed that God would soon keep his promise to send the Messiah. When Saul was a young man, he was sent to Jerusalem to study Jewish law.
When he returned home, Saul began to hear about a prophet named Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah. People said this man had risen from the dead and that he had worked miracles as a sign that he had been sent by God.
Saul began to persecute Jesus’ followers. He demanded that they give up their new faith. But no matter what he did, more and more people became followers of Christ. They even began to call themselves Christians!
Saul was traveling to Damascus where belief in Jesus had begun to grow. As he neared the city with his companions, he was struck by a light so bright that it blinded him. He heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Saul asked, “Who are you, sir?”
The voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Go into the city and you will be told what to do.”
Saul’s friends took him to a house in the city. After three days, one of Jesus’ disciples came to visit him. The man said that Jesus wanted Saul to believe in him and to be baptized. He laid his hands on Saul and baptized him. Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit and regained his sight. He began to teach about Jesus, telling everyone that Jesus was the Son of God and that they, too, should believe in him. People began to call him “Paul” as a sign of the new life he had received from Christ.
St. Paul’s change of heart is called his conversion. We celebrate this great event each year on January 25.
Paul the Missionary
Paul traveled to many different countries to teach others about Jesus. He shared the Good News about Jesus with Jews and Gentiles, people who were not Jewish. He became known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. He never forgot about the Church communities he founded all over the world. He prayed for them constantly and wrote them letters. He even wrote letters from jail after he was arrested for preaching about Jesus In his letters he urged the new Christians to stay strong in their faith and reminded them how Jesus wanted them to live.
We still read Paul’s letters, which we call Epistles, today. They are found in the New Testament. They are often read at Mass. They continue to guide us in living as followers of Jesus.
Two Great Leaders
Together, St. Paul and St. Peter, the Apostle Jesus chose to lead his Church after he returned to his Father in heaven, were so important to the growth of our Church that we honor them with a joint feast day on June 29th. They both died as martyrs for their belief in Christ. To learn more about St. Peter, click on this link.
The Church has one more celebration each year to honor these spiritual brothers. It is called the Dedication of the Basilicas of the Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome. A basilica is a great church dedicated to the memory of an important person or event. Tradition tells us that the basilicas honoring St. Peter and St. Paul were originally built over the places where they were martyred. This double feast is celebrated on November 18.
Remembering St. Paul
In one of the last letters, St. Paul compared his ministry to the sacrifices a successful athlete makes. He wrote: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
St. Paul was an ambassador for Christ, the Lord’s representative for people who had not yet heard the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection and God’s loving plan to save all people. You, too, are called to carry on Christ’s work in the world today as St. Paul did. You can best share your faith with others by living as a follower of Jesus. Your example can lead others to Christ.
- St. Paul Feast Days: Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul — June 29
- St. Paul Feast Days: Dedication of the Churches of Sts. Peter and Paul — November 18
- St. Peter, Apostle Feast Day: Dedication of the Churches of Sts. Peter and Paul — November 18
- St. Peter, Apostle Feast Day: Sts. Peter and Paul — June 29
- St. Leo the Great Feast Day — November 10