Today the church celebrates the Conversion of St. Paul, and yes, we all know well the various artistic renderings of that great event. Hopefully, most Christians are aware of how profoundly St. Paul went on to shape the Church, transforming it from a small sect within Judaism to the truly catholic (universal) body Christ called us to be.
What most of us can easily overlook is that the conversion, as miraculous as it was, would have remained fruitless had it not been for the courage of one person.
Act 9 tells us that Saul traveled after the conversion to Jerusalem, then the center of the fledgling Church, and tried to join the disciples but all were afraid of him, even though he had been fiercely preaching the gospel. One man has the courage to buck the group, take him to the apostles and speak on his behalf. You can be relatively certain than most of the disciples thought he was a naive fool for trusting Saul. Even today how much do we really believe in anyone's conversion. We say we are Christians, but let someone claim to have changed or even change their behavior and we are as skeptical as any atheist. We start looking for ulterior motives, or worse we wait for the person to fall again.
One person had true insight. He looked into Saul and saw a changed man and was willing to give Saul the benefit of the doubt. Today as we celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul let us offer up a little prayer for St. Barnabas who was willing to be the lone voice who defended him. His courage made it possible for Saul to join the group, and become St. Paul, which in turn made it possible for most of us, the Gentiles, to be welcomed into the Church.
Thank you for your singular act of courage, St. Barnabas.