I’m sure we can all imagine what it must have been like for the early Christians in Jerusalem. They were being watched and followed by people like Saul. He would have watched from the shadows as small groups of Christians gathered to pray together. He silently waits for his opportunity, and when he sees it, he emerges from the darkness, breaks into the home, and arrests them all.
It’s hard to imagine that such a zealous enemy could ever embrace these people, much less embrace their faith. But that’s exactly what we commemorate today: The Conversion of Saint Paul.
Saint Paul’s story can encourage us as we come to the end of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It seems that everywhere we look in the Church, we find division: doctrinal disputes, personality conflicts, liturgical disagreements, even conflicts over how to serve the poor. The challenges can go so deep that we’re tempted to accept the status quo of division rather than engage in the hard work of reconciliation.
But Saint Paul’s story shows us that Our Lord can intervene in even the most challenging situation. Yes, Our Lord saw Paul’s hatred and enmity, but he also saw his zeal and devotion. And rather than condemn him for his negative traits, Our Lord redirected his positive traits, turning Paul into a living proclamation of the Gospel to the whole world.
As we think about Christian Unity today, we may feel like we’re in better shape than Paul was. After all, we’re not going around arresting people we disagree with. But we can probably identify more subtle attitudes that stand in the way of unity: maybe the way someone we know prays makes us feel uncomfortable. Or maybe we are quick to join in negative comments about what goes on in some of our local churches. It may not seem like a big deal, but even small things can have a big impact.
Our Lord wants to see unity among Christians. He wants to help each of us experience first-hand how “good and how pleasant” it is when we live together in unity (Psalm 133:1). So, let’s work for reconciliation by starting with ourselves. And let’s pray for the day when all divisions are uprooted, and we can live together as one family.