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Feastday Highlights: Conversion of St. Paul, January 25

By Jennifer Gregory Miller (bio - articles - email) | Jan 24, 2014

After the close of the Christmas season with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the first Feast in Ordinary Time is the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle on January 25.

This is a solitary feast of St. Paul compared to the shared solemnity of June 29 with St. Peter. Tradition has that in the early Church there was disagreement among the followers on who was greater, St. Peter or St. Paul. The result to end the dispute was the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. Both saints have other feasts, such as the Chair of St. Peter, and additionally in the 1962 calendar, St. Peter in Chains (Lammas Day).

The first reading of today is Acts 22:3-16, which is the conversion story retold by St. Paul. Acts 9:1-19 is the first unfolding of the conversion of Saul.  The writing of the Acts of the Apostles has traditionally been attributed to St. Luke the Evangelist, so it is interesting, especially with children, to compare and contrast the two passages.

Note that in either passage no horse is mentioned, but most artistic depictions have Saul falling off his horse. My favorite painting is the Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus by Caravaggio, probably because it is connected to a happy memory between my husband and me. We travelled to Rome in 2002 for the canonization of St. Josemaria Escriva. One day we stopped in the Basilica Santa Maria del Populo for Mass, and enjoyed the unexpected surprise of finding this and another of Caravaggio's paintings, tucked away in a side chapel.

I love the depiction of the confusion of that moment, and the contrast of light in this watershed moment in St. Paul's life.

Despite the fact that this feast has been celebrated on this date even before medieval times, there are not many popular customs or traditions attached to this date. Perhaps it is because the feast falls in the dead of winter in the Northern Hemisphere? There are English customs. One is connected with the Church of England's St. Paul Cathedral. And in rural England this was a prognostic day for the weather of the year.

Culinary ideas require a little imagination and application. Do you think Saul was knocked off his horse? There are numerous horseshoe cookie recipes, and even a Hobby Horse cake could be adapted. St. Paul's contribution to the New Testament with his Epistles brings to mind the symbols of writing and a book, so a Book Cake would be an appropriate dessert. See the Nameday Ideas for prayers and symbolism and food ideas for this saint. One can also take inspiration from foods from Biblical times, or add some traditional Jewish cooking for dinner.

At home or in the classroom, discussing Saul's Family Tree and playing St. Paul and the Epistle Charades, or maybe an old-fashioned game of Blindman's Bluff or some other game requiring blindfolds will really help one appreciate this great Apostle of the Gentiles.

This feast reminds us how our lives were forever changed with our Baptism. We have our new baptized names in the eyes of God, changed like Saul's name was changed to Paul. While many of us cannot recall our baptismal day, every day should be a recommitment for us as children of God to be in His service and to grow in love of Christ every day.

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  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Jan. 25, 2014 10:17 AM ET USA

    Immediately before this day, in the readings, Saul was anointed and made king of Israel, then disobeyed God, and David was anointed while Saul was king. David killed Goliath and was exalted by the people, Saul got envious and tried to kill him. While being persecuted by Saul, David had the God given opportunity to kill Saul, but refrained. Saul then recognized David's goodness and praised him, and said he would be king of Israel. It is no accident that the feast of Saint Paul (Saul) comes now.

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