Steve Ray is celebrating an old friend in this Year of St. Paul, which began June 29.
The Catholic convert and author has written a Catholic Scripture Study on the Acts of the Apostles (CatholicScriptureStudy.com), has produced an adventurous documentary on the former Saul of Tarsus, and during the Pauline year will be delivering some 20 addresses on St. Paul and leading a Pauline Mediterranean pilgrimage in March, 2009.
Ray recently concluded a series of five talks in the Dioceses of Duluth, Minn. and Corpus Christi, Texas. He spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake about the Year of St. Paul.
Who was St. Paul?
Paul was a man who had a heart 110% for God. Even as a Pharisee, his goal was to bring people back to the Law of God.
After his conversion, he was unrelenting in his preaching that it was the Messiah who would usher in the Kingdom of God. When you look at Paul’s birthplace — Tarsus — it was the philosophical and cultural center. Tarsus was the great center of learning for Greeks. Jerusalem was the center for Jewish religious culture.
Paul started in Tarsus and moved to Jerusalem. God was preparing him to be able to speak to both worlds.
We have descriptions of him, especially from a document called “Paul and Thecla,” which was one of the widely read writings of the early Church. He’s described as short, bald, with a single eyebrow, and a hooked nose. He had crooked legs and was described as full of friendliness, sometimes having the face of a man and other times the face of an angel.
He was a wiry, stubborn, brilliant, driven, compassionate, complex person. He probably spoke five languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek and probably Latin, and a local dialect of Tarsus. He was well prepared to communicate the Gospel to the whole world.
Why devote a year to him?
First, it’s because we’re celebrating the 2,000th anniversary of his birth.
Second, because the world is short on heroes today.
Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are very concerned about young people. Today, people are famous for being well-known or having lots of money. Pope Benedict XVI is asking us to step back and turn our eyes from the messed-up people today to show us a real hero — someone who was willing to die for the faith.
Young people want something to live for. The world gives them nothing of meaning or hope. The Pope is holding up that here is a man you can emulate. Third, because of the sheer significance of the man. He traveled more than 6,000 miles preaching the Gospel and at least half of the books in the New Testament are written by Paul.
Tell me about his names.
He had two names — Saul was his Jewish name and Paulus was his Roman name. It was very unusual for a Jew to be a Roman citizen. Again, it was part of God’s preparation for him.
He was named Saul after the first king of Israel. King Saul was very tall, but in God’s eyes he was quite small. Paul, on the other hand, means small, but in God’s eyes he was very tall.
In your DVD, “Paul: Contending for the Faith,” you traveled to many of the places where Paul lived, traveled and preached. What have you learned by following his footsteps?
I’ve learned the sheer ruggedness of the man. He would often say that so-and-so left him. That’s not surprising, given stories like that in Acts 20 where he preached all night long and then took off the next day for another trip. He expected as much of others as he expected of himself.
I wonder how many of us would have stayed with him after four days without sleep. He traveled from Tarsus to Antioch and from Jerusalem to Spain. He wasn’t content to stay in one place. His goal was to preach to the whole world.
I’ve also realized what a manly man he was. When I descended from the walls of Damascus in a basket for my DVD, as Paul had done, I got dizzy and wanted to get out. Paul did it at night.
The first thing Ananias said to Paul was how much he would have to suffer for Christ. He was flogged five times, shipwrecked three times, beaten with rods three times, stoned and left for dead, and bitten by a snake. He was a tough and fearless soldier for Christ.
He didn’t preach the Gospel behind the safety of a microphone. Today, the town square is the radio and television. Then, it was the judgment seat where everyone gathered.
Paul wasn’t afraid of his enemies. He went right in the middle and challenged people. He was fearless. He only feared God.
Tell me about the place where Saul was struck blind.
I recall standing at the place where Paul was knocked to the ground. It’s at a bend in the road about nine miles from Damascus. I sat there for an hour realizing what Paul has meant to Christianity, to the Church, to the world, and in eternity.
It was at this place where he changed in an instant. All of his theology grew out of the kernel that was
Jesus’ question of him — “Why do you persecute me?” Jesus was saying that the Church was the body of Christ.
Paul’s theology is all about us being in Christ. All of that comes from the one question that Jesus asked him.
What is the central part of Paul’s message?
That we’re saved by grace and not by a slavish obedience to the Mosaic law. One needs to be in Christ and Christ in him as the focus of their entire life. Christ is the fulfillment of everything.
Since you are a former Protestant, what can you say about the tendency to place Paul above Peter?
Well, in the Bible we have a lot more from and about Paul. The Protestants seem to have hijacked him. There’s a view among both Catholics and Protestants that Peter is the Catholic apostle and Paul is the Protestant apostle — that Paul was a lone ranger out doing his own thing.
Even Catholics subconsciously have that view. Yet, Paul is very much a Catholic. In his instruction he says that this is how we do it in all of the Churches.
Whenever he refers to Peter he calls him Cephas (the Rock). He even speaks of going up for two weeks to “see” The Rock.
In that passage, the Greek word to “see” means to go admire as one might admire a monument. Paul is clearly an apostle within the Church.
A great exercise for the Year of St. Paul is to read his letters. How should they be read?
In the Bible they are organized from the longest to the shortest. The best way to read Paul is within the context of the Book of Acts, each read within their historical context, beginning with 1 and 2 Thessalonians, moving onto Galatians and Romans and ending with Titus and 1 and 2 Timothy.
This puts them into the context of the whole New Testament and helps you to see the development of Paul’s thought and doctrine.
Tell me about your Paul Mediterranean cruise pilgrimage.
From March 4-14, 2009 we’ll be following the footprints of Paul through Greece, Turkey, Israel, Egypt and some of the Mediterranean islands. We’ll also be visiting Tarsus, where Paul was born, and Antioch. You can learn more on my website CatholicConvert.com
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.