Saul, the man who would later become the great apostle and physician to the Gentiles, was born in Tarsus, a renowned city in Cilicia. Being of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin, Saul was reared in a strict observance of the Law. After his father sent him to Jerusalem, he studied under the illustrious Rabbi Gamaliel, who instructed him further in all the rituals and beliefs of the Hebrew people.
Saul quickly became the most intelligent student in his class and was fiercely committed to upholding the Commandments. He became a brutal enemy of the followers of Christ. He was present for the stoning of the Protomartyr and Deacon, St. Stephen. Saul kept the clothing of those who stoned him, like a relic to be treasured. As he matured, his animosity for Christians became more entrenched. In Jerusalem and elsewhere, Saul sought out anyone who confessed Christ and turned them over to the authorities for execution.
On one occasion, Saul went to the High Priest in Jerusalem for a mandate that the Jews in Damascus be conscripted to assist him to capture all the Christians living there. Saul grasped the document which mandated the capture of the Christians and rushed to Damascus on horseback filled with fury. He was startled to see a heavenly light enveloping him as he drew close the metropolis. As the horse threw him to the ground, the voice from heaven cried out, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?" The voice continued, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest.”
Although Saul trembled at these words, he answered: "Lord what wilt thou have me to do?" The Lord replied: "Arise and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do." Saul's companions heard the voice, but saw no one. Saul arose from the ground, opened his eyes, but saw nothing, having lost his sight. Having been led to Damascus, he remained three days and nights in prayer, tasting neither food nor drink. At the same time, a follower of the Lord named Ananias received a vision detailing what had transpired. He then went to the house where Saul was staying, gave him instructions, baptized him, and restored his sight by putting his hands on him.
Shortly after being baptized, Saul, now known as Paul, entered the synagogue and proclaimed that Jesus Christ is the Lord and Messiah. Using his brilliance, education and new faith in Christ’s Resurrection, St. Paul demonstrated the veracity of his claims in a way that no one could dispute them. Everyone was astounded by his transformation; the Jews plotted his assassination because they could not disprove his teachings. But St. Paul escaped death thanks to the devout Christian followers who lowered him in a basket over the city walls.
Following this, St. Paul traveled to Jerusalem with the intention of joining the Christian community there. However, the locals there were terrified of him because they were unaware of his conversion. They know of his violence toward the Christian community, especially because of the stoning of St. Stephen. St. Paul finding St. Barnabas, who had once been his schoolmate, related to him what had taken place, and was by him brought to the apostles, who rejoiced greatly at his conversion, and gave due thanks and praise to God.
From this point on, St. Paul passionately preached the Gospel in all places, visiting numerous towns, kingdoms, and converting thousands of people. He also dispatched other apostolic workers to convert people in other nations. Who can describe the shame, ridicule, anguish, and persecution he endured for the genuine faith, along with all of his labors and cares? This is something he writes about in his letters, most notably in chapter eleven of his second epistle to the Corinthians.
In the book of Acts, St. Luke states that, on the way from Caesarea to Jerusalem, a prophet had foretold that St. Paul would be captured and handed over to the heathens at that very spot. So his followers would not let him go, but they couldn't stop him with their prayers or tears. "I, am ready," he stated, "not only to be bound in Jerusalem, but also to die for the name of Jesus."
St. Paul backed up by statements with his actions. Shortly after his arrival in Jerusalem, he entered the temple to pray. However, the Jews quickly recognized him and attacked, dragging him out of the temple. They were about to kill him with their fists, but the Tribune, Claudius Lysias, and his soldiers rescued him, as St. Paul was a citizen and subject of the Roman Empire. Claudius Lysias took St. Paul into custody and delivered him to Caesarea, where he was held in prison. In time, the Governor Felix declared St. Paul innocent of any charges. Instead of being sent back to Jerusalem to be tried by Festus, his successor, St. Paul appealed to the Emperor and was instead transferred to Rome, where he was released after two years in prison. After a brief respite, the Saint resumed his apostolic work, traveling to France, Italy, and even Spain to spread the Gospel and win many souls.
Finally, St. Paul returned to Rome, where he urged several of the godless Emperor Nero's concubines to give up their sinful ways. St. Paul and St. Peter were both imprisoned by an irate Nero after he had converted them to the point that they no longer submitted to the tyrant's lust due to their love of chastity. A little while later, both were doomed to die—St. Paul by sword and St. Peter by cross. According to St. John Chrysostom, the martyred apostle Paul's blood was milk-white rather than red. Additionally, it is said that after being severed from his body, his head sprang up three times, each time releasing water. Three springs displayed at the site of his execution continue the custom to this day.
Without a doubt, God showered particular favor and virtue onto St. Paul. He performed numerous miraculous feats. Those who were ill were instantly made well and those who were possessed set free with a mere touch of his handkerchief. An angel once appeared to St. Paul in the midst of a storm, telling him that the Almighty would save the lives of everyone on board the ship if he would only pray to God. Our Lord spoke to him in an appearance at Corinth and commanded him, "Fear not, but speak: be not silent." In another message, Christ told St. Paul, "Hasten, swiftly leave Jerusalem." The Savior also told him to remain constant, adding, "Just as you have testified of me at Jerusalem, so must you do at Rome." Not only did the holy apostle have these reassuring visions, but he was also graced to be carried up into the third heaven in an ecstasy and observe such tremendous secrets there that he was unable to describe them.
Many miraculous conversions have occurred as a result of reading his epistles, which clearly display his heavenly wisdom and eloquence. Additionally, they attest to the tremendous virtue of this holy apostle, particularly his intense love for the Savior and his neighbor, as well as his immaculate life, humility, severe penance, and unquenchable patience. To put it simply, he could write, "I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me. Christ is my life. I am fastened on the Cross with Christ. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? I am convinced that neither life, nor death, neither height nor depth, nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God which is manifested in our Lord, Jesus Christ." The Cross of Christ was his one and only source of glory. The sacred name of Jesus Christ was perpetually uttered by him and flowed from his fingertips.
It was clear that St. Paul loved his neighbor. His selfless love for his neighbor is shown by the many long journeys he endured, the numerous risks and persecutions he faced, and the immense attention and work he put into all he did. His concern for the well-being of people was beyond paternal, and his hunger to save souls was ravenous. As he put it, he held the freshly converted in his heart before God, loving them like children. He fought impurity by seeking solace in prayer and chastising his body with heat and cold, fasting and vigil, and by maintaining an unbroken vow of celibacy, which he encouraged others to do as well. Despite his many blessings and significant works, he remained so modest that he admitted multiple times that he had been evil against Christians before his conversion. He also claimed to have done more than any of the other apostles, but he still considered himself to be the least among them. As he recounts it, his unending devotion to Christ and the promise of an everlasting reward sustained him through his ordeal. There is no question that St. Paul is lifted to great glory in heaven due to these and other qualities, the list of which would fill several books if recounted. He was 68 years old when he passed away. In Rome, his sacred remains are kept in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.