Pope Francis continued his catecheses on the Acts of the Apostles today with an analysis of one of history’s greatest changes of heart: the conversion of Saul to Paul. And the Holy Father suggested the story demonstrates the dangers of intolerance and ideology.
The Holy Father’s remarks came during his general audience in St. Peter’s Square, where he met pilgrims from around the world. He recalled the horrible persecution of the Christians carried out by Saul with the authority of the high priest. In fact, Saul thought he was doing the right thing.
“The young Saul is portrayed as intransigent, namely, as one who manifests intolerance towards those that think differently from him; he absolutizes his political or religious identity and reduces the other to a potential enemy to fight — an ideologist,” the Pope explained. “In Saul, religion was transformed into an ideology: religious ideology, social ideology, and political ideology. Only after having been transformed by Christ will he then teach that the true battle is not ‘against flesh and blood, but [. . .] against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness’ (Ephesians 6:12). He will teach that one must not fight against people, but against the evil that inspires their actions.”
Francis continued by noting that Saul was angry. He was determined to eliminate the Christians. The Pope suggested that believers should ask themselves how they live their faith:
“How do I live my life of faith? Do I go to encounter others or am I against others? Do I belong to the universal Church (good people and bad people, all) or do I have a selective ideology? Do I adore God or do I adore dogmatic formulations? How is my religious life? Does the faith in God that I profess make me friendly or hostile towards those who are different from me?
Of course, when Saul encountered the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus, he was stuck with a deep and penetrating question: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” (Acts 9:4).
“The Risen One manifests here His being one with all those that believe in Him: to strike a member of the Church is to strike Christ Himself!,” the Holy Father asserts. “Also, those that are ideologists because they want the ‘purity’ — in quotation marks — of the Church, strike Christ.”