Paul was born in a seaport city in Asia Minor called Tarsus, in the province of Cilicia. He was born of Jewish parents who maintained , with great care, the Pharisaical traditions and pious customs. They came originally from Galilee and belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. On the eighth day of his birth, the child was circumcised according to the Jewish custom. He was given the name of Saul and in addition, as a Roman citizen, the name Paulus was also added. This too was customary among Jews who were Roman citizens.
In those days, even wealthy Jewish boys learned to work with their hands. Saul was to be a tent maker and he began to learn this trade when he was quite small. As a young man, he was sent by his parents to Jerusalem where he was instructed in the law of Moses by Gamaliel, a noble Pharisee and an eminent Doctor of the law.
As Saul grew older, he persecuted the followers of Jesus with zeal, believing them to be heretics and idolaters. His name alone would induce fear in the hearts of the faithful for he breathed nothing but threats and slaughter against them. He was one of those who took part in the murder of Saint Stephen, the first Christian Martyr, by looking after the robes of men who stoned him to death.
In the fury of his zeal, he applied to the high priest for authority to arrest all Christians, men and women, in Damascus, and bring them bound to Jerusalem. Saul was almost at the end of his journey to Damascus when a great light suddenly shone around him; as he fell from his horse, he heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” The voice was gentle but reproaching. “Lord, who are you?” he asked in awe, and the voice answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting!”
“Lord, what will you have me do?” asked the instantaneously, miraculously converted Saul, who from now on will be known as Paul. Jesus told him to rise and to proceed on his journey to Damascus where he would learn more of Jesus’ plan for him.
When he got up from the ground, Paul realized that he could not see, he had been stricken blind! The furious persecutor of Jesus Followers, whose name wrought terror to the Christians, was no more; he had to be led by the hand like a child!
In Damascus, Paul was miraculously healed of his blindness. Thus, a persecutor was turned into an apostle and chosen to be one of the principle instruments of God in the conversion of the nations.
From the moment of his incomparable conversion, Saint Paul knew and loved Jesus!
Excerpt from “Saints for all. Lives of Saints for every week.” A Paulines Publication Africa