Paul's conversion (and let me echo the words of St Augustine used speaking about his own conversion) is simply the passage from his dedication to God to recognition of what God has done and does in Jesus.
Augustine describes his conversion thus: "When I read the apostle Paul [and immediately afterwards -because it is not enough to the Scriptures--he adds:] and when Your hand healed the sadness of my heart, then I understood the difference inter praesumptionem et confessionem / between dedication and recognition." Praesumptio does not indicate a bad thing. In the long term it decays into bad presumption, but initially it indicates a person's attempt to achieve the good ideal intuited. Christian conversion is the passage from this attempt to do good (good works, said Pope Benedict) to the simple recognition of the presence of Jesus. From praesumptio, dedication, to confessio, recognition. The confessio, recognition, is like when the child says, 'Mamma." As when the mother comes towards the child and it says, 'Mamma."
Christian conversion, for Augustine and Paul, is (let me use the image of Don Giussani's that, in my opinion, has no equivalent) the transition from the enthusiasm of dedication to the enthusiasm of beauty; from the enthusiasm of one's own dedication, which in itself is good, to the enthusiasm aroused by a presence that attracts the heart, a presence which gratuitously comes forward and gratuitously makes itself recognized. Paul had done nothing to meet Him. His gratuitous coming forwards accomplishes the transition from our dedication to the beauty of His presence that makes itself recognized through attraction. And between recognition and dedication there is no contradiction. Giussani says simply that "enthusiasm of dedication is incomparable with the enthusiasm of beauty." It is the same term St Augustine uses when he describes the relationship between the virtue of men and the first steps of those who put their hope in the grace and mercy of God.
We might also say that when by grace a person happens to live the same experience that Paul went through, his same experience, in the infinite remove from him, it is as if all the Christian words, the word of faith, the word salvation, the word Church, were transparent of the initiative of Jesus Christ. It is He who stirs faith, Faith is His working. It is He who saves. Bestowing salvation is His initiative. It is He who builds His Church. "Aedifcabo ecclesiam meam" (Mt 16:18). Aedificabo is a future tense [verb]: "I will build my Church" on the profession of faith of Peter, on the grace of faith given to Peter (cf. Mt 16:18). It is He who builds personally, in the present, His Church on a gift of His.
Giussani was speaking to a group of young people. At a certain point he asked: "What puts us in relationship with Jesus Christ? What, now, puts us in relationship with Jesus Christ?" People said: "The Church," "The community," "Our friendship," and so on. At the end of all the suggestions, Giussani repeated the question: "What puts us in relationship with Jesus Christ?" And then gave the answer himself: "The fact that He is risen." Because were He not risen, were He not alive, the Church would be a merely human institution, like so many others. One burden more. All things merely human in the become a burden. The Church is the visible term of the gesture of the living Jesus who meets the heart and attracts it.
Don Giacomo Tartandini, 30 Days, no. 6/7 2009