Permanently etched in my memory is a painting done by the famous Italian artist Caravaggio of the “Conversion of St. Paul.” It is one of Caravaggio’s greatest works, telling the story that changed the face of Christianity and the Catholic Church. I have read the account of Paul’s conversion many times in the New Testament and celebrated the feast day of that event on Jan. 25 for many years. The story can be read in Acts 9: 1-31.
St. Paul’s original name was Saul, and he was feared by the early Christians. Before his conversion, Saul’s mission was to eliminate Christianity by persecuting the early Church. How does one change from that to become one of the most important ministers of the gospel of all time? It is conversion at its very best. The man who was Saul became Paul at the Lord’s own choosing. And it is important for us at St. John’s to know this story, and to realize that the potential Christ saw in St. Paul is not unlike the potential that lies within each of us to be Christ’s disciple.
I often note that every stewardship story begins with a conversion of some sort, varying in intensity. A change of heart, attitude and action is at the root of every story of embracing the stewardship way of life. The Apostle Paul’s conversion experience is a great stewardship story and deserves our attention. It might even knock us off our “horses” of indifference to the stewardship way of life. Perhaps it should.
Caravaggio’s’ painting of the “Conversion of St. Paul” depicts Paul on the ground beneath his horse, looking up with hands raised while the light of Christ shines down upon him. It was the defining moment of this great saint’s encounter with the risen Christ, when he would turn from his life of persecuting the Christians to be baptized and devote the rest of his life to proclaiming the Christian faith. Overwhelmed with the grace of our Lord in his heart, Paul was led to a home of another Christian, who amazingly opened his door to the notorious persecutor of the Christians. It was there that Paul was “formed” in the Christian faith, baptized, and began his life of discipleship.
The account of Paul’s conversion reminds us of an awareness of the gift of God’s own Son calling us to be his instruments. From the hospitality received by those who cared for Paul, to the time Paul spent in prayer with Christ, to the formation received by the Christians who received him, to the service he not only received from other disciples but gave to a world waiting for the Christian message of hope and salvation, Paul’s story is “classic stewardship,” as it exemplifies the four pillars of stewardship. These are the pillars of discipleship: Paul’s and ours.
Caravaggio’s masterpiece of the “Conversion of St. Paul” hangs in our church to remind us of this story. It should become very familiar to us, for this great work of art is also a great story of stewardship. Let it be told again and again, for the conversion needs to continue to evolve. As Christ’s disciples, we are His witnesses of the gospel, proclaiming it with the lives with live, the words we speak, the gratitude we share, and the stewardship we represent. Aren’t we blessed to have the same opportunity as the great Apostle Paul?