With Vespers at St.-Paul-Outside-the-Walls, the Year of St. Paul begins.
There is nothing abstract about this. It is not about filling a gap in our religious education or ticking off “need-to-know” items off a checklist.
It’s about Jesus Christ, and the world he came to redeem.
A world which is no different from the world of St. Paul. If you don’t believe this, simply do as has been suggested – read the Letters of Paul and see how many times you nod in agreement. Yes, this is the way things are. This is the world that needs Christ.
But because of so many factors, we are tempted to forget this. Caught up in a culture in which religion is nothing more than one aspect of a socially acceptable life, a box that we stack next to those labeled Work, School, Shopping and Vacation, a box that we shop for and trade in according to how busy it keeps us or how little it challenges us, we forget this. Still stumbling out of the shadows of a cultural Christianity, still blinking in the harsh light of new paganism, high materialism and a society that is absolutely indifferent to Christian claims, we forget this, and are confused as to why our institutional claims are ignored and even reviled.
Fearful, lazy, selfish and comfortable, we forget this.
While, right around the corner, right next door, right upstairs behind a closed door, a soul wonders, Why am I here? What is the point?
And around the next corner another soul twisted by sin causes great harm to the innocent.
And down the street, across the border, around the globe, the abandoned are hungry, thirsty, naked and in prison.
Broken bodies. Yearning souls.
Deep in our theorizing truth out of existence, we ride along the road, skeptical about everything but the importance of our own comfort, listening to words spoken hundreds of years ago, nodding, hoping that our kids listen to the words too and stay attached to the institution long enough to keep them out of trouble. Serious trouble, at least.
I baptize you…
Why a Year of St. Paul again?
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!
And for this very 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 bimillennium of his birth, which historians have placed between the years 7 and 10 A.D.
Apostles, witnesses and martyrs.
The full text from today’s homily is not yet available in English, but here, from the AsiaNews report:
“Who is Paul?” This is the question that the Pauline Year, in the words of Benedict XVI, addresses to us today. “Teacher of the gentiles, apostle and proclaimer of Jesus Christ”, the pope recalled, “this is how he characterises himself in a retrospective look at the course of his life. But with this, our attention is not directed only to the past. ‘Teacher of the gentiles’ – this title is open to the future, to all peoples and all generations. Paul is not for us [only] a figure of the past, whom we recall with veneration. He is also a teacher, apostle and proclaimer of Jesus Christ for us as well. We have therefore gathered not to reflect on a history left behind forever. Paul wants to speak with us – today”.
“In the letter to the Galatians”, he continued, “he provided for us a very personal profession of faith, in which he opens his heart to the reader of all times, and reveals the deep driving force of his life. ‘I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me’ (Gal. 2:20). Everything that Paul does begins from this centre. His faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a completely personal way; it is the awareness of the fact that Christ has faced death not for some anonymous person, but out of love for him – for Paul - and that, as the Risen One, he still loves him. Christ has given himself for him. His faith comes from being transfixed by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that shakes him to his core and transforms him. His faith is not a theory, an opinion about God and the world. His faith is the impact of the love of God on his heart. And thus his faith is itself love for Jesus Christ”.
“This love is now the ‘law’ of his life, and in this very way it is the freedom of his life. He speaks and acts on the basis of the responsibility of love. Freedom and responsibility are here united in an inseparable way. Because he stands in the responsibility of love, he is free; because he is someone who loves, he lives completely in the responsibility of this love and does not take freedom as the pretext for willfulness and egoism”.
In the “search for the interior physiognomy of St Paul”, Benedict XVI then evoked the words that Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”, in order to highlight how in these words there is an “identification” between Christ and his Church. It is “the Lord himself”, then, who asks: “How could you have lacerated my body? Before the face of Christ, this word becomes at the same time an urgent request: Bring us back together again, from all our divisions. Make this a reality again today: there is only one bread, because we, although we are many, are only one body”.
In short, Benedict began by explaining, so strongly and clearly, that the motivating force within Paul was a response to the love of Jesus Christ. This is completely consistent with everything Benedict has every said about Christianity – it all about the love of God for the world He created, and our grateful reponse to that love.
The next point Benedict made was, again, very clearly – and this will be more evident when we’ve got the translation – concerned the identification of Christ with His Church. I wish I had it in front of me, but he said something like – the Church is not a group of people gathered to promote a cause. There is no cause.
That statement, There is no cause…gives me enough to think about for the rest of the day.
It is about another of Benedict’s constant themes – distinguishing the nature of the Church. What does this have to do with Paul, we say? Isn’t he about my righteousness before God? Period? No. Paul is very much about the Church, and seriously reflecting on Paul is an invitation to contemplate again what “Church” means, and how it is different.
More photos at Yahoo News Photos. However, note to Reuter’s: “Vespers” is the term for the evening prayer service of the Church. In Italian it is “Vespri.” However, Vespri in this context is not a proper name for someone who, I don’t know, maybe owns the place: “Pope Benedict XVI arrives to lead the Vespri’s ceremony at the St. Paolo’s Basilica in Rome June 28, 2008.”
Well, on to the links. There is a lot out there. Add your own, if you like.
A very nice way to ease yourself into thinking about Paul is by reading Benedict’s catechesis on Paul from the Wednesday General Audiences.
The catechesis on Paul, along with Benedict’s other talks on the Apostles, were collected in this volume published by OSV last year.
Reading these talks, you’ll learn about Paul, but you will also be invited to reflect, led by Benedict in his inimitable style – on what this has to do with you in your individual faith, as well as in who you are as a member of the Body of Christ.
Also from OSV, and co-published with the Diocese of Birmingham, is a parish study guide for the Letters of St. Paul, written by Fr. Mitch Pacwa. It’s sold 8000 copies in the Diocese of Birmingham, so we can hope and pray that there will be a lot of good Scripture studies in parishes there over the next year!
Also from the Diocese of Birmingham, Bishop Baker’s letter about diocesan celebrations. Sunday morning, Bishop Baker will be celebrating Mass at EWTN – 8 am Eastern, I believe – to open the year, and there will be vespers tomorrow night at the Cathedral (of St. Paul naturally.) The Birmingham News reports here.
Zenit has an article on what some other dioceses are doing: Phoenix, Denver, London and Toronto. The latter has a nice section of the website dedicated to the year. From the Zenit article:
Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto will open the Year of St. Paul on Friday evening at St. Paul’s Basilica.
In a letter issued for the jubilee year, the archbishop encouraged all “to take advantage of the diverse spiritual, devotional, scriptural, intellectual and cultural opportunities that will be made available throughout this Pauline Year.”
The archdiocese commissioned an icon to Benedictine Sister Marie-Paul, which the bishop will bless Friday. The icon will be made available for veneration as it circulates among the parishes of the diocese.
The archdiocese also prepared a prayer book to “assist all of us to enter more deeply into the richness of St. Paul’s spirituality.”
Archbishop Collins invited his diocese to join him every second Sunday for lectio divina at St. Michael’s Cathedral, where he will join them in reflecting on St. Paul’s letters.
Casting the net a bit wider now, probably the best place for one-stop Year of St. Paul shopping is Aquinas and More. They’ve set up a great site, gathering all kinds of print and audio resources as well as art and so on.
I’m sure you’ll have more to add.
Oh, I should mention that the USCCB’s Year of St. Paul site is paltry and negligible. And should be an embarrasment. Not even linked on the front page yet. Given that one of the primary justifications of the existence of a national bishops’ conference is to bring what the universal Church is doing into the local context, you’d think they’d do more. You’d hope. In vain, perhaps.
Ah, but shame on me and so back to the positive. From one of the Pope’s GA talks:
We must fit all this into our daily lives by following the example of Paul, who always lived with this great spiritual range. Besides, faith must constantly express humility before God, indeed, adoration and praise.
Indeed, it is to him and his grace alone that we owe what we are as Christians. Since nothing and no one can replace him, it is necessary that we pay homage to nothing and no one else but him. No idol should pollute our spiritual universe or otherwise, instead of enjoying the freedom acquired, we will relapse into a humiliating form of slavery.
Moreover, our radical belonging to Christ and the fact that “we are in him” must imbue in us an attitude of total trust and immense joy. In short, we must indeed exclaim with St Paul: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8: 31). And the reply is that nothing and no one “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8: 39). Our Christian life, therefore, stands on the soundest and safest rock one can imagine. And from it we draw all our energy, precisely as the Apostle wrote: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4: 13).
Therefore, let us face our life with its joys and sorrows supported by these great sentiments that Paul offers to us. By having an experience of them we will realize how true are the words the Apostle himself wrote: “I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me”; in other words, until the Day (II Tm 1: 12) of our definitive meeting with Christ the Judge, Saviour of the world and our Saviour.