Pope Benedict XVI in his homily at vespers for the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, today, Jan. 25:
Conversion implies two dimensions. In the first step we recognize our faults in the light of Christ, and this recognition becomes sorrow and repentance, desire for a new beginning. In the second step we recognize that this new road cannot come from us. It consists in letting ourselves be conquered by Christ. As St. Paul says: "I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been conquered by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12).
Conversion demands our yes, my "pursuit"; it is not ultimately my activity, but a gift, a letting ourselves be formed by Christ; it is death and resurrection. This is why St. Paul does not say: "I converted" but rather "I died" (Galatians 2:19), I am a new creature. In reality, St. Paul's conversion was not a passage from immorality to morality, from a mistaken faith to a right faith, but it was a being conquered by Christ: the renunciation of his own perfection; it was the humility of one who puts himself without reserve in the service of Christ for the brethren. And only in this renunciation of ourselves, in this conforming to Christ are we also united among ourselves; we become "one" in Christ. It is communion with the risen Christ that gives us unity.
We can observe an interesting analogy with the dynamic of St. Paul's conversion also in meditating on the biblical text of the prophet Ezekiel (37:15-28), which was chosen as a basis for our prayer this year. In it, in fact, the symbolic gesture is presented of two sticks being joined into one in the prophet's hand, who represents God's future action with this gesture. It is the second part of Chapter 37, which in the first part contains the celebrated vision of the dry bones and the resurrection of Israel, worked by the Spirit of God.
How can we not see that the prophetic sign of the reunification of the people of Israel is placed after the great symbol of the dry bones brought to life by the Spirit? There follows from this a theological pattern analogous to that of St. Paul's conversion: God's power is first and he works the resurrection as a new creation by his Spirit. This God, who is the Creator and is able to resurrect the dead, is also able to bring a people divided in two back to unity.
Paul -- like Ezekiel but more than Ezekiel -- becomes the chosen instrument of the preaching of the unity won by Christ through his cross and resurrection: the unity between the Jews and the pagans, to form one new people. Christ's resurrection extends the boundary of unity: not only the unity of the tribes of Israel, but the unity of the Jews and the pagans (cf. Ephesians 2; John 10:16); the unification of humanity dispersed by sin and still more the unity of all who believe in Christ.
Unity is not just an after effect of personal repentance and conversion; it is the continued operation of God's hand through the works of His children who commit themselves always into His hands: this "renunciating our own perfection". It is only the objective body of Christ wherein our unity is found. To repeat what the Pope says: "...conforming to Christ are we also united among ourselves; we become "one" in Christ. It is communion with the risen Christ that gives us unity."
We are not talking about a horizontal axis of us Christians as the body of Christ, as some kind of subjective realization that then leads to unity; but first conforming to the vertical axis of repentance and conversion, through which Christ Himself then operates to bring about real unity. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit...
The Pope concluded his homily:
The horizon of full unity remains open before us. It is an arduous task, but it is exciting for those Christians who want to live in harmony with the prayer of the Lord: "that all be one so that the world believes" (John 17:21). The Second Vatican Council explained to us "that human powers and capacities cannot achieve this holy objective -- the reconciling of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ" ("Unitatis redintegratio," 24).
Trusting in the prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ, and encouraged by the significant steps made by the ecumenical movement, with faith we invoke the Holy Spirit that he continue to illumine our path. May the Apostle Paul, who worked so hard and suffered for the unity of the mystical body of Christ, spur us on from heaven; and may the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the unity of the Church, accompany and sustain us.