A happy feast day to you all. And what a wonderful feast! I always had an interest in St Paul, an interest that was deepened by one of our Scripture lecturers in seminary, Fr Michael Mullins. In this courses on St Paul his approach was one which combined Biblical scholarship with basic common sense (a powerful if rare combination in academia today). In his classes St Paul came alive: no more an unapproachable theologian and figure of controversy, he emerged as a man of flesh and blood, deeply in love with Jesus Christ, a man so in love he was pushed out to proclaim the Gospel regardless of the challenges and trials which met him along the way. Rather than denying the traditions about Paul, Fr Mullins explored them and found them to be worthy of belief. I always used to urge him to write a book about Paul and he said he would when he got a chance - we're still waiting.
Following on from these courses, the recent Pauline Year was another opportunity to immerse myself in St Paul and what refreshment I found! Pope Benedict's General Audience talks were wonderful and well worth reading - short but rich, they give us the essence of St Paul and his theology and, yes, his deep love of Jesus. I would recommend you read them if you have not done so yet.
St Paul has been a figure of controversy, and his writings have inspired and angered down the centuries. Martin Luther used them to break from the communion of the Church, radical feminists use them to support their view of the Church's hatred of women. Positively, these writings have inspired and formed Saints. Blessed James Alberione, the 20th century's apostle of the media, found his call in Paulinism: he sought to emulate the Apostle's mission to the gentiles in his ministry through the media. And even our Fraternity finds its theological base in St Paul's writings - in his reflections on the Mystical Body of Christ which remind us of our union in Christ and inspires us within that union to be a family of prayer for those in the arts and media.
At the heart of the feast today is St Paul's conversion. Caravaggio and others put him on a horse as he journeyed to Damascus - the Scriptures do not mention a horse, but the light which shone down on him knocked him to the ground - such was his first encounter with Jesus Christ. It was a different Paul that stood up, a broken man, but one about to be born anew. As we follow him and listen to him in his preaching, we learn that at that moment, on the ground, all was revealed to him: all was revealed in the vision of Jesus Christ - no wonder he came to love the Lord with such passion.
This is the way of all conversions: an encounter with Christ and a growing in love for him. In embracing Christ as he truly is, we embrace the truth and seek to live it; we may even be prepared to die for it, as did Paul. Conversion is not a once off event either. Some conversions are dramatic, like Paul's; others take a little more time like Augustine's or Edith Steins or John Henry Newman. But most take longer, perhaps even a lifetime. And though we may hold to the truths of the faith, we ourselves are always in need of conversion, because each day we are called to turn more and more to God; to let the things of this world diminish in our sight so God and the things of the next world may increase in our sight and in our way of life. Such is the way of the Saints, the way of perfection - it is the way of daily conversion.
So today is an opportunity for all of us to listen again to St Paul and to learn from him - he is a wonderful guide on the way of holiness. May this great Apostle bless all of you and be with you all the days of your life. In these days, I pray that he will be with our pro-life brothers and sisters in the US as they participate in the March for Life in Washington and in other places around America. May the courage, fidelity and love of St Paul inspire them as they stand in solidarity with the millions of children whose lives are considered by many to be unworthy of life.