Year Of St Paul: Let’s Celebrate!
By CASE Team Member, Clare Ward
(Published in The Universe newspaper, June 2008)
The start of a jubilee year this month which is dedicated to one of our greatest evangelising saints, provides the Catholic Community with an opportunity to celebrate.
Pope Benedict XVI has declared that the ‘Year of St Paul’ will run from June 28th 2008 to June 29th 2009 and it will commemorate the second millennium of the saint’s birth. As such, an invitation has been sent from Rome for celebrations to take place throughout the world in churches, shrines, places of worship, institutes for studies and groups that carry St Paul’s name, or are inspired by him and his teaching. The hope is that catechetical instruction on the letters of St Paul will be offered, that perhaps conferences and prayer events might be put on and maybe even a musical initiative could be organised. To that end, in England and Wales, a meditation on St Paul in words and music has been released on CD; it is called Magnus Sanctus Paulus and the music is performed by Schola Cantamus, directed by Jeremy de Satge, narrated by Bishop Bernard Longley, Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster. A number of talks have also been organised at diocesan level to provide an opportunity for all the baptised to learn about the saint.
But why a year dedicated to St Paul who at times is a figure who courts much controversy and the theological content of his writings intense debate?
St Paul was born at Tarsus in modern day Turkey and was a Roman citizen, but also a Jew who was attached to Pharisaic tradition and observances. At the time of his circumcision he was given the name of Saul and, as a Roman, also took the Latin name of Paul. In his youth he was taught how to make tents and at a young age was sent to Jerusalem to receive his education at the school of Gamaliel. In Acts of the Apostles we read that he later took an active part in the martyrdom of St Stephen (Acts 7: 58 – 60; 22:20).
No one at that time would have predicted what later happened to the Saint (Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-21; 26:9-23). Paul had been an ardent persecutor of the Christians (Acts 26: 9 – 11), but on the road to Damascus his life changed when he heard Jesus say to him: "Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?" (Acts 9: 1 – 20). The Saint was instructed by Jesus to go to Damascus and await instruction; he was temporarily blinded and his sight was restored when Ananias laid hands on him. Paul was then baptised and began preaching in synagogues. He later went on missionary journeys which included visits to Cyprus, Paphos, Asia Minor, Perge, Antioch, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth and Rome, amongst other places; he became one of the greatest evangelising saints in the Church’s history. During his life he was shipwrecked and imprisoned more than once. It is believed that he suffered martyrdom near Rome and died in the same year, if not on the same date as St Peter. In recent years his tomb is thought to have been discovered under an altar in one of Rome's largest churches – St Paul Outside-the-Walls. His story shows that even the most hard hearted can be touched by God’s grace, love and mercy.
Fourteen epistles in the New Testament are traditionally attributed to Paul, although some authorship is disputed. These epistles were widely circulated within the early Church and document Paul’s responses to many of the problems which were encountered, from dealing with sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6: 12 – 20) to the ‘inward struggle’ (Romans 7: 14 – 25). As such, the epistles are believed to be the earliest written books of the New Testament. These writings have influenced Christian thought for centuries and inspired generations of evangelists, not least, the account of his address to those gathered in the Areopagus in Athens. In this speech he tells Athenians that the ‘Unknown God’ to whom they had a shrine is in fact known, as the God who had raised Jesus from the dead. (Acts 17:16–34). This is a message that many people need to hear today and it’s our duty to tell them.
St Paul very especially received a mission to both Jew and Gentile. We read in Galations, chapter 3, verse 28: “There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be neither slave nor freeman, there can be neither male nor female – for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul preached that the Gospel of Jesus is for all people, irrespective of their gender, background and status. To a young Church which had a distinctively Jewish identity, this was a radical and challenging message. Issues related to this are grappled with in several of his letters. The example of Paul’s ministry reminds us all that that the work of evangelisation is everyone’s task and that the Gospel message is for all people; no one is excluded. Paul reminds us that we must extend beyond our own comfort zones and reach out to those who are outside of our baptised community. The Church re-emphasised this many decades after the death of St Paul in a document called Evangelii Nuntiandi: “We wish to confirm once more that the task of evangelising all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church.” EN 14
Prayer is the foundation stone of this jubilee year and the mission of the Church. Benedict XVI is offering those who visit the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome a plenary indulgence. The Vatican decree reads that those who are not in Rome can also obtain the indulgence, "if they participate devotedly in a religious function or in a pious exercise held publicly in honor of the Apostle of the Gentiles: on the days of the solemn opening and closing of the Pauline Year in any place of worship; on other days determined by the local ordinary, in holy places named for St. Paul and, for the good of the faithful, in other places designated by the ordinary."
The decree also noted that the sick or those who legitimately cannot leave their homes, can obtain the indulgence if they "spiritually unite themselves to a jubilee celebration in honour of St. Paul, offering their prayers and suffering to God for the unity of Christians."
Resources to equip and encourage the Catholic Community in England and Wales to mark the jubilee year are available. The Catholic Agency To Support Evangelisation (CASE) has a web portal which can be accessed from www.caseresources.org.uk. Meanwhile the Liturgy Office of the Bishops’ Conference has produced a series of leaflets which offer a brief introduction to the letters of St Paul as heard at Sunday Mass; see: http://www.liturgyoffice.org.uk/Resources/Scripture/Paul.html. A dedicated page is also available from: www.catholicchurch.org.uk and www.annopaolino.org.
In addition to this it is hoped that many Catholics will be inspired to follow in St Paul’s footsteps by engaging in evangelistic outreach. To that end, two new CASE initiated evangelisation resources are available for use during the Pauline Year. The first is a new outreach magazine to give to non-Catholic enquirers which is called Life4seekers Magazine. The second is an evangelistic website for children which can be accessed from www.yfaith.co.uk. Evangelisation packs will also be sent to every parish and religious house in time for Home Mission Sunday which falls on 21st September 2008.
CASE Director, Mgr Keith Barltrop, said: “The Year of St. Paul provides a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the part that he played in the mission of the early Church. Imprisoned, shipwrecked, persecuted and often a controversial figure, he has inspired generations of Christians to share the Gospel message wherever the Lord calls them. There is so much that we can learn from his life and work. Join us in helping to make this a jubilee year to remember.”
Credits: some information was sourced from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11567b.htm and http://www.zenit.org/