St. Paul spent the better part of 20 years on missionary journeys. By proclaiming the Year of St. Paul last summer, Pope Benedict XVI invited us to spiritually journey with the great Apostle to the Gentiles — and the author of much of the New Testament — over the course of 12 months.
With eight weeks to go, now might be a good time to pull into port and ask ourselves: How are we doing with our Year of St. Paul? The idea is not to beat ourselves up about what we haven’t done, but to make up for lost time.
After all, we can do a lot of virtual accompanying between the first week of May and the last week of June. (The Year of St. Paul, marking the 2,000th year since his estimated birth, officially concludes June 29.)
The Register asked several notable Pauline experts how we might use this time to “go and grow” with St. Paul.
“First thing you’ve got to do is read St. Paul. Don’t just read about him,” advises Jesuit Father Mitch Pacwa, Eternal Word Television Network host, biblical scholar and author of St. Paul and the Power of the Cross (Our Sunday Visitor, 2009) and St. Paul: Jubilee Year of the Apostle Paul Edition: A Bible Study for Catholics (OSV, 2008).
“We need to make sure we read St. Paul himself to see what he actually wrote and certainly be careful about the things people say he wrote,” explains Father Pacwa (who is now online at FatherMitchPacwa.org).
The popular priest emphasizes the importance of bearing in mind St. Paul’s motivations in writing the epistles: He was addressing specific pastoral concerns of the far-flung local churches.
Turning to St. Paul is “a wonderful way to start understanding the sacraments,” continues Father Pacwa, who focuses on this aspect in his 2008 book. St. Paul clearly lays the groundwork for a theme that St. Thomas Aquinas picked up on and developed centuries later: “Each of the sacraments has its root in the death and resurrection of Christ.”
Father Pacwa suggests reading the Pauline letters in the chronological order in which they were written. That would mean beginning with Thessalonians. This approach can help us see the progression of the apostle’s thinking.
Asked to cite an example, Father Pacwa points to St. Paul’s first writing on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, where he elevates celibacy above marriage. Why? Because, at this early stage of his apostolic life, St. Paul thought the Second Coming of Christ was imminent — probably within his lifetime.
Later, in Ephesians 5, St. Paul shows that his understanding has developed. He highlights marriage as a way of seeing heaven: The Church is Christ’s bride, and he loves her accordingly. “It’s a beautiful understanding of marriage, a beautiful sacrament,” says Father Pacwa.
By reading attentively and in an informed way, says Father Pacwa, Catholics can better explain to non-Catholics how Christian celibacy and marriage complement each other, providing a temporal glimpse of the eternal world to come.
If you’ve already read the Pauline epistles in chronological order, you may want to zero in on one particular letter for careful contemplation. Franciscan Father Andrew Apostoli, EWTN series host and author, suggests 1 Corinthians as a Pauline letter an individual, family or little study group can read and share in depth.
It “is a very interesting letter because it shows the turmoil in the Church community Paul was dealing with,” says Father Apostoli. “There was scandal, divisions, the struggle with chastity, but it also had the charismatic gifts, all the gifts we have today. It’s a great pastoral letter on how to deal with the problems of the Church.”
Christopher Cuddy, co-author of Sword of the Spirit: A Beginner’s Guide to St. Paul (Life Teen, 2008) and a research fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, recommends both letters to the Corinthians for people stuck on where to begin.
The fledgling Church in Corinth “struggled with the same things that we struggle with today — mon--ey, immorality, power,” explains Cuddy. He adds that Paul’s combination of recognition and reprimand “is very applicable to the contemporary Church,” as we, too, need to be both cheered on toward good and steered away from evil.
Cuddy also encourages families to vicariously journey with Paul by reading Acts of the Apostles. St. Luke, that book’s author, focuses on Paul starting in Chapter 13. (His conversion comes earlier.)
There’s much to learn and discover anew about the apostle in the Book of Acts. Even kids enjoy hearing about his adventures with shipwrecks, snakebites and escapes so narrow they would give Indiana Jones a run for his money.
Cuddy then recommends reading secondary sources to help “unpack” Paul. He cites Father Pacwa’s books and Scott Hahn’s A Pocket Guide to St. Paul (OSV, 2008).
Cuddy’s own book looks at Paul’s letters topically, allowing teen and adult readers to skip around for the apostle’s guidance on such subjects as sin, temptation, salvation, the sacraments, forgiveness and mercy.
Of course, no reading up on St. Paul would be complete in this Year of St. Paul without a heaping helping of Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father’s general audiences on St. Paul are all online at Vatican.va. To find the Register’s own translations of the Pope’s teaching on Paul, search “catechesis” online at NCRegister.com. Plus, the U.S. bishops have posted a collection of related resources at USCCB.org/liturgy/stpaul.
Go On — Indulge
So much reading, so little time? Then how about a conference you can attend in the comfort of your own home?
Robert Corzine of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology points out that Scott Hahn’s six-part lecture series “The Gospel According to Saint Paul” is online — and available at no charge — at the center’s website, SalvationHistory.com.
Hahn, the popular theology professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville (Ohio), talks about major themes in St. Paul’s thought; the series also includes the handouts Hahn gives his students at the university. “Viewers can download and print these handouts as if they were there for the series when it was recorded in Christ the King Chapel at Franciscan University,” says Corzine, “except they will probably have more comfortable chairs.”
The lectures can also be downloaded and transferred to CD for portable listening in the car or elsewhere.
While you’re doing all the reading and listening suggested in this article, don’t forget to seek out the closest official Pauline Year pilgrimage site in your diocese: The Holy See has granted a plenary indulgence for such pilgrimages made during this special anniversary year.
Concludes Cuddy: “Paul is preaching to more people now than he did back when he was walking this earth. The pulpit he has from heaven, which we experience in the liturgy, has a far broader reach than even his sermons in the first century.”
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen
is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.