for the Companions of the Transfigured Christ
Sunday, 16 November 2008
St. Paul and the Intentions of the Pauline Year
It is a joy for me to be with you this Sunday morning. I greet the Companions of the Transfigured Christ and all who have come for this morning’s brunch in support of the work of these men. I hope the food and the company agree with you. Don’t hesitate to rethink your offering and put a little something extra in the basket this year. Kyle and Mikkel both assure me they haven’t lost any money on the stock market these days so don’t hesitate. Nothing seems to get cheaper and the need is certainly greater, as you well know from home. Be generous!
By way of an introduction to Father John Theodore’s talk I have been asked to tell you a bit about St. Paul and about the intentions of the Pauline Year we in the Catholic Church world-wide are celebrating to observe the bi-millennium (2000 years) of the approximate birthdate of the Apostle to the Gentiles.
From the point of view of volume, St. Paul is the single most important New Testament author after God who inspired all the writings we find in Holy Scripture, Old and New Testament. If you take your New Testament and count the pages, you’ll find that the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles make up about half the pages, St. Paul a third and everyone else the balance. He may not have written a Gospel, but Paul’s letters are basic to how we are to understand and live the Gospel. What have come down to us from the Church as the Pauline Letters (ro-co-co…), what we may refer to as the Pauline Corpus within the New Testament is the Word of God.
In his letter of October 2007, His Eminence Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo, the Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, where St. Paul was buried after his beheading nearby (between 66 and 67 A.D.), lists 7 opportunities which this year dedicated to St. Paul should provide.
His Eminence Cardinal Ivan Dias, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples wrote his own letter at about the same time specifically to the bishops which depend upon his office, namely here in our area all of the bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference – AEC. He suggested rather concretely a set of 10 “missionary” projects worth considering for the year.
Even if I only took one of the two Cardinals’ lists and briefly outlined the various points, I’d go over my time limit for this introduction. I am confident that I can leave the big talk for today to Father. Besides, one should try and keep it light at brunch time, right? Too much input might not be good for the digestion! Let me focus then on just one idea mentioned by our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI when he announced officially that there would be a special Jubilee Year dedicated to the Apostle Paul, extending from 28 June 2008 until 29 June 2009, and I quote:
“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 his example is today!”
In his letter announcing the Pauline Year, Cardinal Dias elaborates on that central point of the Holy Father’s when he speaks about the relevance of the Pauline Year as a source of inspiration for the missionary effort, as a further encouragement for those who in our day and time strive to do what Paul did, that is, carry the good news of Jesus Christ to the people who have not yet heard of him. The Cardinal in his letter speaks about people today, perhaps right here in the Twin Island Republic, who may speak respectfully of Jesus but who “do not see him as the only Savior of the world, as the one who alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life, true God and true man, before whom (and here he quotes St. Paul) “every knee must bend, in the heavens, on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, for the glory of God the Father” (see Phil 2:10-11).
St. Paul was born approximately 2000 years ago in Tarsus (Ταρσός), a Greek city and a large district, in what today on the map is Mersin Province, on Turkey’s southern coast, 15 km (9 mi) from the city of Mersin and near (40 km) to the city of Adana. In Paul’s time Tarsus was the district capital of Cilicia. Marc Anthony first met Cleopatra in that city. Paul also called Saul was a Jew, evidently from an established family in Tarsus as he had Roman citizenship from birth, hence the privilege of death by beheading i.e. no torture for him. He studied to be a rabbi in Jerusalem under Gamaliel and to support himself as rabbis did then and in many cases do yet today he learned a trade; Paul was a tent maker.
Whether he actually threw stones at the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, is not clear. He was present and approved of the killing, and himself terrorized the early Christian community until Jesus claimed him on the road to Damascus. Paul never met Jesus before Christ’s suffering and death upon the Cross for our salvation; Paul’s vocation to be an apostle, like one of the Twelve, came to him personally from the Risen Christ.
From the Acts of the Apostles and his own letters we can trace four missionary voyages which St. Paul made during his years of ministry. The last one he made in chains from Jerusalem to Rome. The first three took him through what are modern day Turkey, Cyprus and Greece. He traveled by boat and on foot; he spent time with the people to whom he preached; he chose elders and gave the Church in the eastern Mediterranean its initial structure. Most of his letters were written to the communities he had founded, to clarify points of Catholic teaching, to admonish sinners in their midst, to shake them up if need be, to ask them for contributions to support the hard-pressed community of believers in Jerusalem. The rest of his letters were written to individuals, to elders chosen by him: Timothy and Titus, and to Philemon to whom he was sending back his run-away slave, Onesimus, now baptized and a brother in Christ of his former master.
St. Paul not only traveled and wrote letters; he was beaten with rods, whipped, stoned, left for dead, imprisoned, shipwrecked. He was consumed by his love for Jesus and succeeded (with the help of others, naturally) in winning over a good part of the civilized world of his time for Christ. If we reckon from his conversion, to be placed some time between 34 and 36 A.D. (when he was 25 maybe 27 years of age), and when he was beheaded, at the latest in 67 A.D., then we’re talking about 30 years of active ministry.
Sister in school said to us as children that if the Lord knocked us off our high horse like Paul then He could expect wonders from us just as He did from St. Paul. Sister’s logic was that this was the case because of the Lord’s investment in Paul as His chosen instrument, because of the way He had revealed His hand to Paul: the more the Lord invests the more He can expect.
We children took that to mean that since we hadn’t had such a blinding encounter with Christ as St. Paul did on the road to Damascus, we were off the hook in terms of our duties as apostles for today; we could live a normal Christian life. Where do children get such ideas? For that matter, where did sister get off saying that Paul was given more and hence more was to be expected of him? Maybe she was right, but the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 9:7 says concerning Paul’s encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus: “Meanwhile the men who were traveling with him stood speechless; they heard the voice but could see no one.” Were Paul’s companions any less privileged than he? Perhaps! Maybe Jesus, the Risen One, only wanted one good man. However, it might also be the case that Paul’s companions were not receptive to the grace imparted. God never takes away our freedom, especially when it comes to vocational choices.
Paul’s letters don’t always read so easily. Maybe you know some letter writers that are tougher to follow than others, too, but who nonetheless are well worth reading. Read Paul during this Jubilee Year; read Paul for as long as you have eyes to see. Read him with an open heart and risk an encounter with the Risen Christ in and through the Word of God.