Celebrating the Year of Saint PaulTHE MOST REVEREND MICHAEL A. SALTARELLI
This Pauline Year presents us with many opportunities to spread our Catholic faith.
On the Eve of the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, celebrated on June 28, 2007 at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, Pope Benedict XVI stated in his homily at Vespers: "Dear brothers and sisters, as in early times, today too Christ needs apostles ready to sacrifice themselves. He needs witnesses and martyrs like St. Paul. Paul, a former violent persecutor of Christians, when he fell to the ground dazzled by the divine light on the road to Damascus, did not hesitate to change sides to the Crucified One and followed him without second thoughts. He lived and worked for Christ, for him he suffered and died. How timely is his example today! And for this reason I am pleased to announce officially that we shall be dedicating a special Jubilee Year to the Apostle Paul from 28 June 2008 to 29 June 2009, on the occasion of the bimillenium of his birth, which historians have placed between the years 7 and 10 AD. It will be possible to celebrate this 'Pauline Year' in a privileged way in Rome where the sarcophagus which, by the unanimous opinion of experts and an undisputed tradition, preserves the remains of the Apostle Paul, has been preserved beneath the Papal Altar of this Basilica for 20 centuries."
This Pauline Year presents us with many opportunities to spread our Catholic faith here in the Diocese of Wilmington and beyond. I am writing to you in advance of the beginning of the Pauline Year so that the people of the Diocese can discern how best to study, pray and celebrate the life, inspired writing, spirituality and missionary spirit of Saint Paul.
I offer six themes to consider:
I. Paul's Conversion Experience on the Road to Damascus and our Personal Conversion in the Year of Saint Paul
I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting. Get up and go into the city, where you will be told what to do. (Acts of the Apostles 9:5-6)
Paul was complicit in the murder of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, whose feast day we celebrate on December 26. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that those who were stoning Stephen to death "laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul." (Acts 7:58).
Stephen's glowing, peaceful face and his forgiveness of his persecutors as he died must have made an indelible impression on Saul, and prepared him for the experience of the Risen Lord that he had on the road to Damascus, when all of Saul's energetic personality previously focused on the persecution of Christianity suddenly became focused on the spread of Christianity. In a blinding flash of light, the Risen Lord penetrated the inmost being of Saul -- henceforth to be known as Paul -- and shattered his resistance, causing a complete change of mind and heart, a metanoia1, that led him to be a "servant" and "apostle" of Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:1)
We can never underestimate the power of a Catholic life lived with integrity and radiant vitality. How many potential "Saint Pauls" might we influence by radiating the power of Christ from deep within as Saint Stephen did? Paul's reversal was so striking and complete as to be almost unbelievable to his contemporaries. When the Lord spoke in a vision to Ananias to seek out Paul and lay hands on him to restore his sight, Ananias replied "Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem." (Acts 9:13) It's as though Ananias was politely asking the Lord if he really knew who this man was!
The great English churchman, theologian and writer, John Cardinal Newman, meditated on how Paul's conversion prepared him for his missionary role: "…his awful rashness and blindness, his self-confident, headstrong, cruel rage against the worshippers of the true Messiah, then his strange conversion, then the length of time that elapsed before his solemn ordination, during which he was left to meditate in private on all that had happened, and to anticipate the future -- all this constituted a peculiar preparation for the office of preaching to a lost world, dead in sin. It gave him an extended insight, on the one hand, into the ways and designs of Providence, and, on the other hand, into the workings of sin in the human heart, and the various modes of thinking in which the mind is actually trained."2
So much of the story of the early Church can be traced back to the contemplative and enthusiastic heart of Saint Paul ignited by his intimacy with the Risen Lord. Saint Paul understood how sin works in human nature and how the Holy Spirit can completely transform habits of corruption. Saint Paul also understood how to influence non-Christian and anti-Christian mindsets with charity so as to be able to be an instrument of another mind's enlightenment.
The best way that we can celebrate the Year of Saint Paul is to go to the Risen Lord and ask Him about what deep and intimate conversion of life He is calling us to.
We know from Paul's life that at the heart of conversion is a surrender to the love of the Risen Lord. Any interior movement leading from pride to humility, anger to mildness, greed to detachment, lust to a chaste spirit, envy to joy in the talents of others, sloth to zeal, gluttony (including internet, television, cell phone and blackberry gluttony!) to temperance is a surrender to the power of Christ's love within. This love allows us to let go of the fear of surrendering completely to Christ3 so that we can see others with the eyes of Christ4.
II. Living and Praying Christ in the Year of Saint Paul
It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)
Many great saints have built their lives on Galatians 2:20: "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." It can be so easy for us to hear these inspired words over and over again during the course of our lives and never really understand their revolutionary character.
Christ lives within us. He wants to express himself through our facial expressions, our tone of voice, even our body language. Paul was aware of his personal weaknesses, his intellectual and personality shortcomings, his unnamed struggle with "a thorn in his flesh."(2 Corinthians 12:7) But his humble awareness of these weaknesses only made him more reliant on Christ: "I can do all things in He who strengthens me."(Philippians 4:13) His understanding of his personal weakness drove him to open up to the presence and power of Christ within him.
When we are aware of Christ's presence in this way, we enkindle it in many ways: through prayer, meditation, Mass and the sacraments, the sanctification of our daily work5, through joyful and sacrificial family life. Then the light of Christ that naturally emanates from us can be an illumination for a wide range of people, be they fellow believers and people of good will on the road to belief or be they atheists and agnostics. All whom we encounter will sense something different in us and be led to ask themselves questions that could alter their lives and destinies.
We have seen this not only in the lives of saints like Stephen and Paul, but in many others. Think of Saint Thomas More, Patron of Statesmen, Politicians and Lawyers, and his example of virtuous governance and family life6. Think of Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac serving the poor on the streets of Paris. Think of Blessed Damien serving his lepers in Molokai. Think of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta serving the destitute and disfigured in city streets around the world even as she courageously navigated through dry times in her interior life. Think of Pope John Paul II's radiant and joyful face on his papal journeys. Think of millions of Catholic lay people who through the centuries have lived the sacrament of marriage heroically and radiated Christ to the generations that came before and after them. All of these lives are eloquent, tangible commentary on Paul's testimony that, "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me."
The Year of Saint Paul is a time for us to stand on the shoulders of Catholic saints through the centuries and to live Paul's life-changing words in ways that address the world's need for holiness in the 21st Century.
III. Praying, Studying and Living the Inspired Word of God in the Pauline Year
The Word of God cannot be chained. (2 Timothy 2:9)
In a September 16, 2005 address to participants in the International Congress organized to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Dei Verbum7(The Word of God), the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Pope Benedict XVI wrote:
A deep focus on the Word of God reveals to us the fundamental Catholic truth of the road to Emmaus story in the Gospel of Luke9. To be authentically biblical is at the same time to be authentically sacramental and Eucharistic. Any investment in understanding and praying the Scriptures more deeply is at the same time an investment in a fuller, more active and conscious participation in our Catholic Mass and sacramental liturgies.
Saint Jerome described the union of the Word and the Eucharist: "The Lord's flesh is real food and his blood real drink; this is our true good in this present life: to nourish ourselves with his flesh and to drink his blood in not only the Eucharist but also the reading of Sacred Scripture. In fact, the Word of God, drawn from the knowledge of the Scriptures, is real food and real drink.10"
In addition to prayerful Lectio Divina, the Year of Saint Paul affords us the opportunity to rediscover the Roman Catholic Church's contemporary biblical scholarship. The Church's scientific approach to the Sacred Scriptures, characterized by a balanced use of the historical critical method, canonical exegesis11 and many other sophisticated tools for the interpretation of the sacred texts, is well documented in the Pontifical Biblical Commission's The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church issued in 1993 and available on the Vatican website.
Of course, Dei Verbum continues to be an excellent resource to understand the Church's approach to Sacred Scripture:
IV. Lifting High the Cross of Christ in the Year of Saint Paul
I was determined that while I was with you I would speak of nothing
The Cross of Jesus Christ is at the center of all that Paul does. He teaches us how to deal with the hardships and grief of life. Paul experienced it all: rejection, calumny, indifference, shipwrecks, imprisonment and, ultimately, martyrdom as symbolized in art by Paul holding a sword.13
The Cross influences everything about Paul. He states: "I preach Christ and Him Crucified." The Cross transformed his teaching and allowed him to evangelize others by helping them to interpret the meanings of their own sufferings. He also uses a curious phrase: "I boast in the Cross of Christ." (Galatians 6:14) He puts the Cross of Christ above any temptation to egoism or pride. The Cross is the true source of his apostolic effectiveness.
Paul's letters reveal an intense driving personality. The tone of his letters also reveals temperamental struggles. Easily hurt, he was prone to brooding especially when the early Christian communities did not live up to the Gospel. Paradoxically, his interior struggles offer us encouragement and strength to continue fighting with regard to our own character and temperament struggles.
With Paul, we too fight the good fight, endeavoring to allow the Beatitudes, the theological and cardinal virtues, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and ultimately Father, Son and Holy Spirit to reign in us. Dying to self and rising in Christ, we embrace the Cross and remember: "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)
Pope Saint Clement I, in his own letter To the Corinthians, 514, described how Paul made progress in these struggles: "It was through jealousy and conflict that Paul showed the way to the prize for perseverance. He was put in chains seven times, sent into exile, and stoned; a herald both in the east and the west, he achieved a noble fame by his faith. He taught justice to all the world and, when he had reached the limits of the western world, he gave his witness before those in authority; then he left this world and was taken up into the holy place, a superb example of endurance."
Pope Benedict XVI's recent encyclical on the theological virtue of hope entitled Spe Salvi has many references to Paul's living the virtue of hope while he was in prison15 and shows the inspiration his texts provided to subsequent saints such as Saint Augustine16 and a Vietnamese martyr Paul Le-Bao-Tinh (+1857)17 and the African religious Saint Josephine Bakhita.18
In the Year of Saint Paul, each of us is called to lift high the Cross of Christ and to carry it with Paul's courage, determination and trust in God's providential design.19
V. Rekindling a Love for the Eucharist and the Church in the Year of Saint Paul
Is not the cup of blessing we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?
One of the classic Pauline images is that of the Body of Christ as a communion of individuals with specific charisms and talents which build up of the Body. Paul shows that the Eucharist is the source of unity, harmony and communion in the Body. Our reverent reception of the Eucharist is the great spark of missionary activity that leads us, like Saint Paul, to the ends of the earth.
In his 2003 encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II wove Paul's teaching throughout his meditation on the Eucharist:
In his 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI captures the power of the Eucharist: "More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos (Word), we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.' Jesus 'draws us into himself.' The substantial conversion of bread and wine into his body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of 'nuclear fission,' to use an image familiar to us today, which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28)."23 With Saint Paul's intercession, we too can be apostles of the Real Presence of the Eucharist in the world.
VI. The Universal Call to Holiness and the Universal Call to Mission in the
Year of Saint Paul
Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel! (1 Corinthians 9:16)
Oscar Andres Cardenal Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa in Honduras, wrote me a Christmas card which included these words:
"Que el ano de San Pablo, evangelizador infatigable sea la occasion para renovar nuestro Corazon misionero. 'Ay de mi si no evangelizo' (1 Cor 9,16)" ["May the Year of Saint Paul, the untiring evangelizer, be a time for renewing our missionary heart. 'Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel' (1 Cor 9,16)"]
I am convinced that one of the goals of Pope Benedict XVI in proclaiming the Year of Saint Paul is to have every Catholic hold up a mirror to his or her life and to ask: am I as determined and as energetic about spreading the Catholic faith as Saint Paul was? Is spreading the faith both by example and by our conversations with our friends even a concern?24
What are we doing, in particular, to instill a love of Jesus and an understanding of our faith in the hearts and minds of our youth who are the future of the Church? In his boundless energy and athletic metaphors, Saint Paul's example should be especially appealing to young people, encouraging them to apply their energy and enthusiasm to spreading the Gospel of Christ.
Pope John Paul II always reminded us that our Catholic faith only grows when we consciously and conscientiously share it with others. Christ will look at each one of us with his merciful eyes at our individual judgment and ask what efforts we made during the course of our lifetime to invite people into communion with Jesus Christ and His Church. Is it any surprise to us that Pope John Paul began his 1990 encyclical on missionary activity Redemptoris Missio with a tribute to Saint Paul? He wrote:
Pope Paul VI captured the heart of Saint Paul in a passage from his 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi:
May the fire that the Holy Spirit cast down into the heart of Saint Paul, which in turn lit up the earth, inflame our hearts to be vibrant and effective missionaries in the Year of Saint Paul and throughout our lives.
TEN WAYS TO CELEBRATE THE YEAR OF SAINT PAUL
Participate in Parish and Diocesan Masses during the Year of Saint Paul for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul (Sunday, June 29, 2008 and Monday, June 29, 2009), the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle (Sunday, January 25, 2009), and the Feast of Saint Stephen, First Martyr (Friday, December 26, 2008). Make a pilgrimage during the Year of Saint Paul to Saint Paul's parish in Wilmington, Saint Paul's Parish in Delaware City and Saint Peter and Paul's Parish in Easton, MD. If you should be fortunate enough to visit Rome this year, make sure to visit and venerate the tomb of Saint Paul at the Basilica of Saint Paul-Outside-the-Walls. Vatican officials announced in December 2006 that several feet below the Basilica's main altar and behind a smaller altar, they had found a roughly cut marble sarcophagus beneath an inscription that reads "Paul Apostle Martyr." The small altar was removed and a window inserted so that pilgrims can see the sarcophagus. Also visit the new ecumenical chapel which will be located in the southeast corner of the Basilica (what had been since the 1930s a baptismal chapel). While praying there, ask the intercession of Saint Paul for ecumenical progress and full Christian unity.27
Seek Paul's intercession to be a more vibrant missionary in the world. Respond to the Universal Call to Holiness and the Universal Call to Mission. Study classical Church texts on missionary spirit and evangelization that discuss the life and ministry of Saint Paul such as Vatican Council II's 1965 Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity, Ad Gentes Divinitus, Pope Paul VI's 1975 apostolic exhortation Evangeli Nuntiandi, Pope John Paul II's 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio and Pope John Paul II's 1999 post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America.
Study and pray the classical paintings of Saint Paul such as Rembrandt's Saint Paul at his Writing-Desk (1629-1630), Caravaggio's The Conversion of Saint Paul (1600), El Greco's Saint Paul (1606), Michelangelo's The Conversion of Saul (1542-1545), Raphael's Saint Paul Preaching in Athens. For an internet tour of these paintings and other art works that focus on Saint Paul, see the website: www.jesuswalk.com/philippians/artwork-st-paul.htm. And see the 1981 film Chariots of Fire (and other films with Pauline themes) which examines how Eric Liddell, a Scottish 1924 Olympic runner, lives and speaks about the Pauline "running the race" of faith and "feeling God's pleasure" when he runs. This film is a moving commentary on Galatians 2:20.28
We can explore many other Pauline themes during the Year of Saint Paul and many other creative ideas beyond the ten above will help us to live the Year of Saint Paul well. I am counting on you to study the themes and to discover in prayer the ideas. I am counting on you to develop, spread, and live them.
The great French Catholic historian Henri Daniel-Rops summarized Paul's charism in this way:
"How close he seems to us, this man whom the Divine Light struck down on the road to Damascus -- defeated, yet through his very defeat, overwhelmed by a profound anticipation of Grace -- for, after all, we ourselves are still treading that same Damascus road today! He is, after Jesus, the most vivid and complete of all the New Testament figures, the man whose face we can visualize most clearly… And whenever we listen to the least important of his sayings, we recognize that tone of unforgettable confidence attainable only by those who have risked their all." 29
May you and I risk our all for the Gospel during the Year of Saint Paul. And may I express my love for you as your Shepherd in the words of Saint Paul himself: "Do I need letters of recommendation to you or from you as others might? You are my letter, known and read by all men, written on your hearts. Clearly you are a letter of Christ which I have delivered, a letter written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh in the heart." (2 Corinthians 3:1-3)
The Most Reverend Michael A. Saltarelli, "Celebrating the Year of Saint Paul."
Reprinted with permission of Bishop Michael Saltarelli and the diocese of Wilmington, Deleware.
The Most Reverend Michael A. Saltarelli is bishop of Wilmington, Delaware.
Copyright © 2008 His Grace Michael A. Saltarelli
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.