Saul’s Transformation


Saul’s Transformative Vision Quest

(Acts 9:1-20; Ps 117; Jn 6:52-59)


From 1983 to 1988, the Oblate Lebret Task Force organized a series of four-day fasts at late elder Mike Steinhauer’s home in Saddle Lake (onihcikiskwapiwin). We went without food or water for about 72 hours. Every year I was gifted with a new awareness as part of that experience. A vision quest is a more radical fast in which one’s Hogan is surrounded with tobacco ties, and the person stays in the Hogan as much as possible, trying to stay awake to do soul work during the night.

In today’s first reading, we hear about St. Paul going through a similar experience – no food or water for three days. This was truly a vision quest, a liminal space that transformed Saul into the Apostle Paul, on fire for the Lord whom he fearlessly proclaimed for the rest of his life.

We may never do a four-day fast or a vision quest, but our faith invites us into a similar transformation to become disciples on fire with love for Jesus and unafraid to proclaim him to the world.

This experience of St. Paul is often called the conversion of St. Paul but it really should be called the transformation of St. Paul. Sister Teresita Kambeitz OSU went on a pilgrimage “In the Footsteps of St. Paul” many years ago. When I asked her to sum up that experience, she put it in one sentence: “Paul met Jesus and fell in love with him.”

Saul did not need to be converted, as much as transformed. Saul already believed in God with all his heart, was a Pharisee educated in the Jewish faith, and zealously guarded that faith from any diversion from it, especially by those “followers of the Way,” fellow Jews whom he considered heretics and blasphemers because of their belief in this Jesus who said he was the Messiah, Son of God and whom they claimed was alive.

No wonder Saul fell to the ground when that same Jesus spoke to him from a blinding light, addressed him by name, and identified himself with the very people whom Paul was persecuting. What is interesting is when Saul got up, his “eyes were open but he could not see.” I believe this is a deliberate statement on the part of Luke, who does not say Saul was blinded. It reflects the state of the Jews at that time, and our society today, who cannot see the truth in front of us even with our eyes open.

The late Bishop Samuel Ruiz of Chiapas, Mexico, said the same thing of himself after he returned from the Second Vatican Council, took it seriously, began to get involved with the Indigenous people of his diocese, learned of their struggles and suffering from the unjust treatment of the government, and began to work on their behalf. He remarked “I was like a fish in the water asleep with my eyes open.” Oscar Romero was in a similar ignorant, non-seeing state, until he was made bishop and experienced the unjust treatment of some of his priests, along with the suffering of his people, which transformed him into a passionate defender of the poor and their rights, at the cost of much suffering, misunderstanding, judgement and finally, his life.

Saul went through a three-day paradigm shift, a transformational liminal space or threshold, leading to a brand-new world-view and radical change of his life. With the help of Aeneas through whom Jesus worked, he learned the people he was persecuting were the Body of the Risen Jesus. His concept of God as one, impersonal, powerful deity hidden in the Holy of Holies in the temple, morphed into the awareness that God was the Father of Jesus the Messiah who was the Risen Lord of all creation; that God in Jesus was now present in his followers, and present to Paul himself, through the Holy Spirit. God for Saul was now dynamic relationship, Trinitarian family, intimacy, unconditional love, compassion, forgiveness and totally non-violent – a radical transformation of his whole being and life.

Aeneas is a key figure in this transformation of Saul the persecutor into the apostle Paul. Prayerful and full of faith in Jesus, Aeneas was open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to trust in Jesus, overcome his fear, and visit Saul. He was even able to call him “brother,” a sign he had himself forgiven Saul for the terrible persecution he was inflicting on the early followers of the Way. That unconditional love as forgiveness that Saul experienced from Jesus is what transformed him into a believer and a follower, much as that same love and forgiveness had transformed both King David and St Peter before him. And so, Saul became Paul and began to fearlessly proclaim Jesus as Risen Lord, Son of God and Messiah – what for him a few days earlier was considered grievous blasphemy and a terrible heresy.

The lesson for us in this account is to be like Aeneas, open to the movement of the Spirit and forgiving like Jesus. It is also to be like Paul and allow our experience of the Risen Jesus transform us into disciples ready to proclaim him not just as Messiah, Risen Lord, and Son of God, but also as the Bread of Life who alone can satisfy the deepest yearnings of the human heart, as Jesus states in the gospel.

The Eucharist is a reminder of the ultimate work Christ has done for us, in giving his life for us on the cross. May our pondering of God’s word today strengthen our faith in Jesus present in our lives, and help transform us into fearless disciples ready to proclaim the Good News of this Trinitarian God to the whole world by our lives, as did St. Paul.

Updated: April 19, 2024 — 3:13 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie OMI © 2017 Frontier Theme