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When we encounter Jesus and he changes us, he doesn’t take away our personality or character traits. He doesn’t “annihilate” our humanity, but rather transforms it. Pope Francis noted this on March 29, 2023, at the general audience, using the case of St. Paul.
In the first chapter of the Letter to the Galatians, as in the narration of the Acts of the Apostles, we can see that [Paul’s] zeal for the Gospel appears after his conversion, and takes the place of his previous zeal for Judaism. He was a man who was zealous about the law of Moses for Judaism, and after his conversion, this zeal continued — but to proclaim, to preach Jesus Christ.
Saul, later Paul, “was already zealous, but Christ converts his zeal,” the Pope said.
The Holy Father proposed the questions: “What changed in Paul? In what way was his zeal, his striving for the glory of God, transformed? What happened there?”
And he noted that St. Thomas Aquinas explains how “passion, from the moral point of view, is neither good nor evil: Its virtuous use makes it morally good, sin makes it bad.”
Paul’s change came about through his encounter with the Risen Lord.
Paul’s humanity, his passion for God and God’s glory was not annihilated, but transformed, “converted” by the Holy Spirit. The only one who can change our hearts, change them, is the Holy Spirit.
Pope Francis likened this change wrought by the Holy Spirit in a certain sense to the Eucharist:
The bread and wine do not disappear, but become the Body and Blood of Christ. Paul’s zeal remains, but it becomes the zeal of Christ. It changes direction but the zeal is the same.
The Lord is served with our humanity, with our prerogatives and our characteristics. But what changes everything is not an idea, but rather the very life itself, as Paul himself says: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” – it changes you from within, the encounter with Jesus Christ changes you from within, it makes you another person – “the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).