Lord Jesus died, rose again, ascended into heaven bodily, and reigns over all things, at the right hand of the Father.
The original Apostles witnessed some of these events, from the point-of-view of Planet Earth. St. John saw Jesus die. They all saw Him after He rose. They watched Him ascend into the clouds.
The Apostles proceeded to testify orally and in writing. All except John suffered execution, rather than deny what they had seen, and what they believed about the One they had seen. Namely: that He is the Christ of God, the incarnate eternal Word, Who has made Himself the new Adam of the redeemed human race.
St. Paul did not witness the things that the original Apostles witnessed. But he did encounter some of those Apostles personally, as well as other original Christians.
At first Paul not only did not believe them, he despised them. He counted them blasphemers, criminal enemies of true religion.
But then, on this holy day, He, too, encountered Jesus. The Lord spoke to Paul from heaven. Why do you persecute Me? Why do you kick against the pricks? You love God and desire only to serve God. I, Jesus, am God—the true God of love and mercy, in Whom your father Abraham believed.
St. Paul had the faith and courage to embrace Jesus with every fiber of his being.
One thing that makes Christianity so believable is this: The New Testament depicts the human countenances of some absolutely believable people. Jesus Himself. His mother. St. Peter. St. John. And St. Paul.
Probably St. Paul more than any other. After all, he wrote half the New Testament. Plus, almost half of St. Luke’s second book is about Paul.
Many passages of St. Paul’s letters pose extreme challenges to the reader. He had a mind of encyclopedic complexity, and he lived a pilgrim life ten times more adventuresome than Indiana Jones.
A lot of Paul’s writing requires careful study in order to understand–precisely because it is all so absolutely real. The whole thing is geographically coherent, religiously consistent–full of human love, human impatience, webs of relationships, and fatherliness.
Speaking of which: sixty years ago today, the new pope, John XXIII, visited the tomb of the Apostle Paul. The pope gave a little speech. He declared that he would soon summon all the world’s bishops to the Vatican, for an ecumenical council.
I think I may be one of the last of a dying breed: an incorrigibly conservative priest who loves Vatican II. Who loves it more, not less, with each passing year.
Conversion. Pope St. John XXIII had enough faith in Christ, and enough courage, to imagine that the indefectible Church could convert—in those aspects of Her life that can, and have, gone wrong. The pope believed that the true Church of Jesus—Who is the same yesterday, today, and forever—could adapt Herself better to what the Lord asks of Her now. Which differs somewhat from what He asked of Her yesterday.
St. Paul trusted totally and completely in Christ—enough to change. We can, too.