July 18, 2008


The Pauline year gives us a chance to meet St. Paul—as if for the first time

It’s possible to know someone so well you don’t really know them. Or to be so familiar with a famous author or historical figure that you take for granted who they are or what they have accomplished.

St. Paul is one of these too-familiar characters. We have all heard his story many times—about his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus after persecuting the original followers of Jesus; about his experiences as a devout Jew (a Pharisee) and his Roman citizenship; about his unique role in extending Christianity to the Gentiles (those of us who are not Jews); and his preaching throughout Syria, Greece and Asia Minor.

We hear his words nearly every week at Mass, and we connect him with St. Peter and the rest of the Apostles in spite of the fact that he was not one of the original Twelve.

“Who was this Paul?” Pope Benedict XVI asked recently as he proclaimed the Year of St. Paul. “We are not gathered here to reflect on a past history. … Paul wants to speak to us—today!”

Who was St. Paul? The pope has given us a unique opportunity to find out. Instead of taking him for granted, we are invited, and challenged, in this holy year to meet the man who was chosen by Christ to be the first “teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth,” and who became by far the most influential and effective evangelist of the past 2,000 years.

Pope Benedict would like us to get to know St. Paul through his words and his personal story.

“His faith is not a theory, an opinion about God and the world,” the pope says. “His faith is an impact of God’s love on his heart. And so this same faith is love for Jesus Christ.”

For Paul, faith in Jesus Christ was intensely personal—the meaning of his life and of the whole world. And for Paul, the Church is the way that every woman and man becomes connected to Christ, and to one another, as one body united in spirit and in truth.

Pope Benedict opened the Year of St. Paul at an evening prayer service on June 28 in the company of other Christian leaders, including the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople and representatives of other Orthodox Churches and the Anglican Communion.

In his homily at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, Pope Benedict said he hoped that the Pauline year would send a strong signal of Christian unity. Paul taught that we are all one in Christ. This Holy Year is meant to remind us all of the urgency of healing the divisions among Christians, and restoring the unity and vitality of the one body of Christ.

To help us get to know Paul better, Pope Benedict, in his homily, called our attention to three of the Apostle’s writings: 1) The Letter to the Galatians, which describes Paul’s personal encounter with the Lord. 2) The Letter to the Thessalonians, which underscores the need for courage in the face of difficulties, and 3) the Second Letter to Timothy, which speaks of Paul’s suffering as he strives to proclaim the Gospel.

All three emphasize the humanity of St. Paul and provide us with insights into who he was, and why he was so convinced that Jesus Christ is the only way to find true happiness, peace and eternal salvation.

By meeting St. Paul anew, we have a chance to better understand why he was such a passionate advocate for the Gospel that he once rejected and for the Church that he initially tried to destroy.

Let’s accept the pope’s invitation to spend the next 12 months renewing our acquaintance with St. Paul. Let’s reread the Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s letters to the first Christian communities. Let’s find ways to hear what Pope Benedict and others have to say about this most remarkable Christian evangelist.

Most of all, let’s listen carefully—from the heart—the next time that Paul’s words are proclaimed in the liturgy. He is speaking to us—here and now—and he has something very important to say about life, about suffering and about the way to everlasting joy.

May we rediscover St. Paul this year and, in so doing, may each of us meet Jesus—as if for the first time—on our own roads to Damascus.

—Daniel Conway

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