The Archetypical Apostle

He was figure of unrivalled stature; the only way to sum him accurately up is to say that he was great in everything. His conversion is a sign of hope for our times.

Gospel – Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Jesus appeared to the Eleven 15 and said to them: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. 18 They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mk 16:15-18).

I – Great in Everything

The figure of St. Paul is difficult to measure precisely, due to the enormous scope of his personality, his faith and his heroism. Defining him as great in everything seems to be the most accurate formula.

It is difficult to precisely measure the figure of St. Paul, due to the magnitude of his personality, his faith and his heroism

In termos of conversion, could there be a more paradigmatic turnabout than his? Refulgent and efficacious, the change wrought by God in the soul of that obstinate Pharisee was simply colossal: the fierce persecutor of Christians became the most daring of preachers, willing to face any hardship to spread the Good News. Holy Church celebrates this archetypal conversion in her Liturgy – a unique and extraordinary event in the sanctorale – to give us a hint of the Apostle’s singular calibre. Let us sketch out some of his fundamental traits.

Crucified with Christ

St. Paul excels for his clear, profound and lofty vision of the mystery of Christ. He unhesitatingly calls Him “Our great God and Saviour” (Tm 2:13), and confides boundlessly in His power, saying: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). He manifested his unshakeable faith in the Lord by enduring many persecutions, sufferings and misfortunes: “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 without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Cor 11:24-27). Who could rival these credentials of dedication to the Almighty Lord?

Consumed with love, he declares himself to be crucified with Christ, so that it is not he who lives, but Jesus in him (cf. Gal 2:20). This intimate union leads him to choose Our Lord over all things, considering them as rubbish compared to His glory (cf. Phil 3:8). Consequently, for St. Paul, life is Christ and dying is gain (cf. Phil 1:21), for his only desire is to be with Him: “For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day” (2 Tm 4:6-8).

Apostle par excellence

Called the Apostle to the Gentiles, God made him His instrument to open the doors of the Faith to the pagans, conferring upon the Church its true universal character. St. Paul was a tireless evangelizer who travelled thousands of kilometres proclaiming the Good News with unquenchable ardour, as he himself exhorted his disciple and spiritual son Timothy: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus […]: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching” (2 Tm 4:1-2). Images of this Saint often include a polished and sharp blade because to him, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow” (Heb 4:12).

The Apostle to the Gentiles was prompt to use the sword of truth to defend the Church, overcoming the most gruelling situations with joy

St. Paul reveals himself unmistakably as God’s retaliation for the snares and machinations of the children of darkness, for he proved with his life that the good, when entirely faithful, are shrewder than the wicked. In this he obeyed the Master’s precept of combining the innocence of the dove with the cunning of the serpent (cf. Mt 10:16). An overview of some of the many episodes of his life demonstrate this: he feigned death to escape the wrath of the Jews who were stoning him (cf. Acts 14:19-20); he used the area reserved for the unknown God in the Areopagus of Athens to proclaim Christ (cf. Acts 17:23); he divided the Sanhedrin set to condemn him, arguing that he was a Pharisee and believed in the resurrection of the dead (cf. Acts 23:6).

Master of doctrine and the spiritual life

St. Paul’s combativeness is another of his outstanding virtues. In addition to frequently using military metaphors to illustrate his catechesis, the Apostle was prompt to wield the sword of truth in very delicate situations in defence of the Church. He tells us in the Epistle to the Galatians how he rebuked St. Peter for putting the Faith at risk with an ambiguous attitude that favoured the Judaizers (cf. Gal 2:11-14). His fortitude, befitting a soldier of Jesus (cf. 2 Tm 2:3), enabled him to overcome gruelling situations with joy: “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor 1:5).

Finally, St. Paul is synonymous with mastery of the spiritual life. In the unforgettable hymn to charity that he bequeaths us in his First Letter to the Corinthians, which amounts to a vade mecum of holiness, he establishes the central role of the virtue of charity since it will form the basis of many schools of Catholic spirituality across the centuries:

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. […] So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (13:4-8, 13).

II – The Apostle’s Prophetic Profile

The Gospel selected for the feast of the conversion of St. Paul contains Jesus’ final words of advice to His disciples, recorded by St. Mark after he summed up the events surrounding the Lord’s Resurrection. It applies well to today’s celebration, since the Apostle fulfilled mandates of Jesus completely.

“St. Paul preaching to the Corinthians”, by Jean Colombe – Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

The Gospel is unstoppable

Jesus appeared to the Eleven 15 and said to them: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”

St. Paul not only obeyed, he did so in a way that embodied this command of the Divine Master. He presents himself to the Romans as the slave of Jesus Christ “set apart for the gospel of God” (1:1), in other words, to preach the name of the Lord to the ends of the earth.

For the Apostle, preaching epitomized his own life: “For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Cor 9:16). And he preaches without worldly compromise, without fear of persecution or criticism, laying it out entirely “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of His name among all the nations” (Rom 1:5).

The Gospel divides

16 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

The Gospel proclaimed with the courage of St. Paul divides: some it splendidly saves; others it roundly condemns.

Addressing the Romans, he also teaches that God is a just Judge who pays each man according to his deeds. Thus, “to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, He will give eternal life; but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury” (2:7-8).

The Gospel imposes

17 “These signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages. 18 They will pick up serpents with their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them. They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

The life of the great Apostle is the most beautiful fulfilment of this divine prophecy.

St. Paul presents himself to the Romans as the slave of Jesus Christ “set apart for the Gospel of God”, that is, to preach the Lord’s name to the ends of the earth

He carried out exorcisms with dazzling power. When he was in Philippi with other disciples, they encountered a girl possessed by a demon, proclaiming them servants of the Most High God. As this went on for days, St. Paul commanded, in the name of Jesus Christ, that the unclean spirit leave her, which happened immediately (cf. Acts 16:16-18).

The Apostle’s fighting spirit prompted him to cast a malediction on the magician Elymas, who was thwarting the conversion of the proconsul Sergius Paulus. Scripture relates the outcome: “But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.’ Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:9-12).

When a snakebite had no effect on St. Paul, the inhabitants of Malta took him to be a god (cf. Acts 28:3-6). Among the signs he performed were the resurrection of Eutychus (cf. Acts 20:9-12) and countless healings including that of the crippled man of Lystra (cf. Acts 14:7-10). The Acts of the Apostles summarizes these wonders: “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (19:11-12).

Regarding the gift of tongues, St. Paul says: “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all” (1 Cor 14:18). But he advises seeking preferentially those charisms that build up the community, such as prophecy.

Conversion of St. Paul, by Lambert de Hondt, the Younger

III – Archetype of a Militant Catholic

St. Paul’s conversion and life are excellent demonstrations of the redemptive power of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. His éclatante figure serves as a sign of hope for our times.

Nothing is impossible for God, and if He turned the terrible persecutor into His most outstanding Apostle, how can we doubt that in this tragic age of apostasy, conversions à la St. Paul can happen, not just to a few souls, but to entire nations, representing the greatest turnaround in history?

In this tragic age of apostasy, God, who turned the terrible persecutor into His most outstanding Apostle, has the power to work many other conversions, not just of souls, but of entire nations

Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira clearly foresaw this in his prophetic essay Revolution and Counter-Revolution – the subject of special tribute in this issue of our magazine – in stating:

“When men resolve to cooperate with the grace of God, the marvels of history are worked: it is the conversion of the Roman Empire; the formation of the Middle Ages; the reconquest of Spain starting with Covadonga; all these events that result from the great spiritual resurrections which can also affect entire peoples. They are invincible resurrections, for nothing can defeat a virtuous people that truly loves God.”1

To this beautiful enumeration, could be added the conversion of the man who turned the Mediterranean basin into a mare nostrum of the Catholic Church and laid the foundations of sublime Christology.

With our eyes fixed on St. Paul’s conversion, we await that grand spiritual resurrection, prophesied in Fatima by the Blessed Virgin, which will come about through efficacious, operative and abundant graces that will profoundly transform souls, giving way to the longed-for triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary! 



1 RCR, P.II, c.9, 3.



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