January 25: Conversion of St Paul (Mk 16:15-18)




            The risen Christ has just reproached the Apostles “because they had refused to believe those who had seen him after he had risen” (Mk 16:14), but now he accepts them into his service: “Proclaim the Good News to all creation” (Mk 16:16). He convinces them that he trusts them in spite of the collapse of their faith and so enables them to believe in him and in themselves.


            He awakens in them an impelling consciousness of mission and sends them out to preach the gospel. Their commission is to “all the world ... all creation”. All peoples without distinction are to hear the gospel message of Jesus Christ.


            Those who believe their message will express their faith by being baptized. The baptized believer “will be saved” (Mk 16:16), but culpable refusal to believe is the only reason for condemnation, not the fact that a person is not baptized.


            Not only the Apostles but believers generally will enjoy miraculous powers. Extraordinary signs “will be associated with believers” (Mk 16:17). They are part of God’s authentication of those whom he has sent to preach the gospel.


            They will cast out devils in the name of Jesus. Jesus had such success in casting out demons that soon his name alone came to be used as an exorcism. The Acts of the Apostles (16:18) recall that Paul expelled a demon “in the name of Jesus Christ”.


            They will speak in new tongues. Paul was wary of people who claimed this gift. He warned that “tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Cor 14:22), and devoted a long section of his first letter to the Corinthians to place this gift in its proper perspective.


            They will pick up snakes, not deliberately, I’m sure. In Malta (cf. Acts 28:5), Paul shook off a fatally venomous snake “into the fire and came to no harm”, and it was taken as a sign that he was miraculously protected by God.


            They will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover. Paul himself was cured of blindness by the laying on of hands (Acts 28:8), and he in turn cured the father of Publius in the same way.


            What are we to make of these extraordinary signs? They are evidenced today in the context of missionaries among unbelievers more often than in countries where the faith has been established for a long time. However, the Church finds itself again amid populations of unbelievers and we need all the gifts and charisms of the Holy Spirit to help us spread the gospel among unbelievers. Let us pray: “Lord, send forth your Spirit and our hearts will be recreated, and you will renew the face of the earth.”