Today is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle.
Paul’s story is familiar to most. One of the great Rabbi Gamaliel’s prize students, Saul was filled with righteous loathing for this new Jewish sect which proclaimed an executed carpenter to be Messiah and God. Paul stood by approvingly and watched the cloaks of the men who stoned to death the first of this sect’s martyrs, Stephen. It was while he was on his way to Damascus to crush the nascent Christian community that he had his first encounter with the risen Christ. The words of Jesus were poignant:
“Saul, why do you persecute ME ?“
Beginning with that encounter Saul, who later used his Roman name Paul, would develop for us the Theology of the Body. Jesus’ words to Saul on the road that day reflect perfectly his words in Matthew 25 on the Last Judgment, “Whatever you do to the least of these my brothers, you do unto me.”
This is the foundation for a proper Christian understanding of the right use of sex. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church, as well as later Popes, would explain that conjugal love is the prefigurement for the interior life of the Blessed Trinity: The radical self-donation between Father and Son generating the Holy Spirit of God. It is within radical self-donation that life becomes possible. Such life is not merely offspring, but family itself; bound up in and suffused with sacrificial love. Such love in human families is meant to prepare us for the love we are expected to demonstrate in Heaven, where we too will give all of ourselves to God.
Sex in this context is holy. It is at once reflective of the self-donation in all other quarters of the marriage, and the reinforcer and catalyst for future self-donation. It naturally gives biological life, but more importantly it teaches parents how to imbue their children with spiritual life, teaching the very essence of sacrificial love.
Paul knew this.
That’s why he equated fornication with idolatry. He knew that the use of sex merely for personal gratification was simply using the other person as an object, which is extremely corrosive of the understanding of death to self in love. Such self-centeredness is not only a rejection of the very means God gives us of glimpsing the interior life of the Trinity, it takes that ecstasy and turns it in on itself. Pleasure by the individual, for the individual.
Out of such an idolatrous paradigm grows the pernicious weed of narcissism, which admits no personal responsibility for another if one’s own good (Meaning one’s own gratification) is threatened by the needs of another.
Saul was spiritually blind. He missed the deeper realities of Being, caught up as he was in the myopic focus on the letter of the law. In his first encounter with the risen Christ, he was gifted with physical blindness, to teach him how blind his spiritual blindness had made him. In His great wisdom and goodness, God allowed Saul’s sight to be restored by one of those whom he set out to destroy.
We have many such Sauls among us today; those who direct abortion clinics, whose sight has been restored by the ones they held in contempt.
Like Paul, they have become the most ardent and effective witnesses to the truth. Like Paul, they have sacrificed all for the sake of the truth. They have lost money, family and friends as the price of their conversion.
Today is their feast day. We rejoice with them. We welcome them. We pray for them.