- by Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
As Saint Paul was struck off his horse, he was shaken by the turn of events when Our Lord asked him the question “Why persecutes thou Me?” In other words, open your eyes! Examine your conscience! Realize the fact that you are doing something which, if you make an upright examination of conscience, you will find that it is wrong.
Our Lord’s question was reminiscent of one Our Lord Himself asked the man who hit Him during His Passion: “If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why strikest thou Me?”
In fact, Saint Paul gave no answer to Him because he had none to give. He simply responded: “Who art Thou, Lord?” And he said “Lord” right away because he sensed Who it really was. Our Lord answered: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.”
By saying “Whom thou persecutest,” Our Lord made clear Who He is. He was telling Saint Paul: See Who I am. See Who you are persecuting, and therefore measure how hideous your crime is.
After this, Our Lord adds a somewhat mysterious statement: “It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.” The goad is the wind. He was saying that it is hard to oppose the wind. In this case, the wind is the blowing wind of grace that for a while had been calling Paul to conversion, but he resisted it. The context at least leads to this hypothesis.
Saint Paul answered in his own radical way. He wasted no time. He saw that he was wrong and placed himself at the service of God. He asked: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me do?” The Acts of the Apostles say that he was trembling and astonished as he asked the question. In other words, the blow had hit home. He was disoriented and afraid. He was shaken as he went through a short ordeal of a few minutes which completely changed him and shook his soul. Our Lord then said to him: “Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do.”
Statue of Saint Paul,
Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome
Why did Our Lord not tell him what to do right away? The whole dialogue took place while Saint Paul was blinded and prostrated on the ground. He was told to arise and go to the city and find out what he must do. In other words, he must receive Our Lord’s orders slowly, subjecting himself with humility like a child who takes orders from his superior.
Our Lord was telling him: Go, therefore, groping and advancing step by step, to find out what I want, because I am your Lord and command you as a servant, who is under his Lord’s orders and can do nothing else.
Thus, Saint Paul did not know what God wanted of him. He did not even know if God might want him to remain blind for his whole life. He, the great Paul, the excellent and illustrious Pharisee, was now going to enter the city of Damascus like a child, led by the hand. In other words, it was the complete breakdown of his pride. The text of the Acts ends thus: “But they leading him by the hands, brought him to Damascus.”
In other words, he entered Damascus as a blind man. There he would be blind for a few days, until the scales would fall from his eyes.
This is from an informal talk by Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira on January 24, 1966. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. –Ed.