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Editor’s Notes: Loving the Church
We have just finished celebrating the Year of St Paul, and it is fitting that the theme for this issue of The Sower is ‘Loving the Church’, for that is a wonderfully succinct way of summing up the essence of Saul’s conversion and of his receiving a new name rooted in a new calling. Saul was converted to an abiding love for the Church. After all, what was Saul before his conversion? He was one who loathed the Church. He found the Church not so much irrelevant or simply unattractive, as deeply offensive and hateful—to himself and, he was convinced, to the God of his fathers. Saul, we know from the Acts of the Apostles, was present for the stoning of Stephen: those who had acted as the witnesses against Stephen, the first Christian martyr, ‘laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul’ (Acts 7:58). ‘And Saul was consenting to his death’ (8:1). Following the death of Stephen, Acts describes how Saul ‘laid waste the Church’ (8:3). He ‘dragged off men and women and committed them to prison’ (8:3), ‘breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord’ (9:1). Saul’s conversion was a complete turning around, a total change of direction, so that what was hated now became the occasion for his deepest and most ardent love. The Risen Jesus appeared just as Saul had apparently gained new powers for persecution of these followers of ‘the Way’ (9:2). After this meeting, Saul completes his journey to Damascus, no longer seeking those whom he might imprison but, in his own words, ‘a prisoner of Christ Jesus’ (Philemon 1). The capturer has been captured. His physical journey and destination is unchanged, but he has undergone a dramatic spiritual reversal of direction. He receives a new name, Paul, and a new vocation. There is a ‘new creation’ and now nothing else is to count for anything apart from this new reality, this new love (see Gal 6:15).mHis persecution of the Church is now to be remembered as his most reprehensible activity: he is ‘the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God’ (1 Cor 15:9).