In the story of Paul’s conversion, “the Risen One manifests His being one with those who believe in Him: to strike a member of the Church is to strike Christ himself! Even those who are ideologues because they want the so-called “purity” of the Church, strike Christ ”
Vatican City – We must not transform religion into ideology, as Saul did when he persecuted the first Christians, to him “the Risen manifested His being one with those who believe in Him: to strike a member of the Church is to strike Christ himself! Even those who are ideologues because they want the so-called “purity” of the Church, strike Christ “.
People must not be fought, rather the evil that inspires their actions: This was the theme of the catechesis of Pope Francis for today’s general audience, in which he continued the cycle on the Acts of the Apostles, focusing his meditation on the theme: “The instrument that I have chosen for myself” (Acts 9:15). Saul, from persecutor to evangelizer. (Biblical song: from the Acts of the Apostles, 9, 3-6).
“Starting from the episode of the stoning of Stephen – he told the 20 thousand people present in St. Peter’s Square – a figure appears who, next to that of Peter, is the most present and incisive in the Acts of the Apostles: that of “a young man, called Saul “(Acts 7,58). He is described at the beginning as one who approves the death of Stephen and wants to destroy the Church (see Acts 8: 3); but then he will become the instrument chosen by God to proclaim the Gospel to the nations (see Acts 9:15; 22.21; 26.17). With the authorization of the high priest, Saul hunts Christians and captures them. And this he does thinking he is serving the Law of the Lord. Luke says that Saul “breathed” threats and massacres against the disciples of the Lord “(Acts 9: 1): in him there is a breath that smacks of death, not of life”.
“The young Saul is portrayed as an intransigent, that is, one who shows intolerance towards those who think differently from him, who absolutizes his political or religious identity and reduces the other to a potential enemy to fight. In Saul, religion had become ideology. Only after having been transformed by Christ, then will he teach that the real battle “is not against the flesh and the blood, but against […] the rulers of this dark world, against the spirits of evil” (Eph 6:12). He will teach that people should not be fought, rather the evil that inspires their actions. Saul’s angry and conflictual condition invites everyone to ask themselves: how do I live my life of faith? Do I go to meet others or am I against others? Does professing faith in God make me friendly or hostile towards those who are different to me? ” And this, he added, leads me to ask myself “How is my religious faith?”
“Luke tells us that while Saul is intent on eradicating the Christian community, the Lord is on his trail to touch his heart and convert him to Himself. The Risen One takes the initiative and manifests himself to Saul on the road to Damascus, an event that is narrated three times in the Book of Acts (see Acts 9: 3-19; 22.3-21; 26,4-23). Through the binomial «light» and «voice», typical of theophanies, the Risen One appears to Saul and asks him to account for his fratricidal fury: «Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?» (Acts 9,4). Here the Risen One manifests His being one with those who believe in Him: to strike a member of the Church is to strike Christ himself! Even those who are ideologues because they want the so-called “purity” of the Church, strike Christ”.
“The voice of Jesus tells Saul: “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do”(Acts 9: 6). Once standing, however, Saul no longer sees anything, and the once strong, authoritative and independent man becomes weak, needy and dependent on others. The light of Christ has dazzled and blinded him: “Thus also appears externally what was his inner reality, his blindness to the truth, to the light that is Christ” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, 3 September 2008). From this ‘body ‘ between Saul and the Risen one begins a transformation that shows the ‘personal Easter’ of Saul, his passage from death to life: what was glory first becomes “waste” to be rejected to buy the true good that is Christ and life in Him (see Phil 3: 7-8) ‘.
“Saul receives Baptism and Baptism marks for him, as for each one of us, the beginning of a new life, and is accompanied by a new look at God, at himself and at others, who from being enemies become brothers in Christ. The hardening is overcome, the heart beats with a new love and immediately the new man announces Christ (see Acts 9:20). The zeal of the hardened persecutor changes into the zeal of the compassionate evangelizer, through whom the fire of the Gospel of Christ propagates itself by arousing faith in many hearts “.
“Let us ask the Father, following Paul – he added in greeting to the French faithful – to teach us not to fight people, but the evil that inspires them, not to go against each other, but to want to encounter each other”.
“Let us ask the Risen Lord – he said in greeting to the faithful speaking Arabic – to enlighten and convert all the people who still today persecute believers, believing they are doing the will of their god”.