Archbishop Charles Scicluna explained that the Conversion of St Paul the Apostle illustrates a change of heart, as he reflected on the conversion of St Paul during his homily on Saturday evening, in a pontifical mass at the Mdina Cathedral. Inviting those present to reflect on the Gospel which spoke of the Pauline Conversion, the Archbishop reminded that they will hear it once again on the feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck on 10 February.
The conversion of Paul is seen as evidence of the power of Divine Grace, where God’s power achieved a divine purpose and converted Saul, previously a persecutor of early Christians into a believer. His conversion was not only a change of religious adherence but also a change of heart.
The Archbishop explained that St Paul was closer to us, because his path included the sacraments which one would require to become a Catholic. His conversion is considered important because of his work in spreading the Gospel far and wide, as well as a conversion in aligning one’s will with that of God, thus striving to do what God calls one to do.
During the solemn feast, the Archbishop referred those present to Mattia Preti’s titular painting which represents the ‘Conversion of St Paul’. Explaining the painting to those gathered, Mgr Scicluna said retold the story of Saul prior to his conversion saying that he would persecute the early Christians before his encounter with Jesus. He then moved on retelling the encounter Saul had with Jesus, during which a light from the sky flashed and Saul fell to the ground. Saul then heard a voice asking him “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”, Saul initially thought it was someone else before the voice told him “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”. The Archbishop explained that this episode fully illustrates that belief that what happens unto Catholics is done unto God.
Preti’s work illustrates St Paul lying on the ground conversing with Jesus which anticipates the state of a person who is lost, Mgr Scicluna explained. St Paul’s open hands are symbolic of Jesus’ open hands and show a profound conversation between the two, he further told those assembled.
The Archbishop explained that while differences existed in the different accounts one finds in the Bible, all have the same root at Pauline conversion’s core, Jesus’ invitation to St Paul to cross from darkness to light. Mgr Scicluna stated that the physical illustration was symbolic to St Paul’s change of heart.
He then explained that the conversion of St Paul the Apostle was “radical” in its nature, with the Apostle entrusted to become a witness and martyr for his faith. The Archbishop concluded his homily by saying that it was after St Paul’s conversion that the holy sacraments were given to Catholics as well as to the Maltese.